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The suggestion of 'a broken leg' wishes for the actor the good fortune of performing for royalty and the success that would follow due to their visit to your theatre I am German, and we indeed have the saying 'Hals-und Beinbruch' which roughly means 'break a neck and leg'.

The origin of that saying is not proven but widely believed to originate from the Jewish 'hazloche un broche' which means 'luck and blessing', and itself derives from the Hebrew 'hazlacha we bracha', with the same meaning. For Germans failing to understand 'hazloch un broche', this sounds similar to 'hals und bruch' meaning 'neck and break'.

Given that this has no real meaning, a natural interpretation would be 'hals und beinbruch', especially since 'bein' did not only mean 'leg', but also was used for 'bones' in general, giving the possible translation of 'break your neck and bones'. That it was considered back luck to wish for what you really want 'Don't jinx it! Such ironic wishes - 'anti-jinxes' - appear in most languages - trying to jinx the things we seek to avoid.

In Germany 'Hals-und Beinbruch' is commonly used when people go skiing. Fishermen use a variation: 'Mast-und Schotbruch', which means on a boat 'break the the main poles' which hold the sails. The German 'break' within 'Hals-und Beinbruch' it is not an active verb, like in the English 'break a leg', but instead a wish for the break to happen. The German 'Hals- und Beinbruch' most likely predates the English 'break a leg', and the English is probably a translation of the German Thanks to Neale for the initial question. This sense is supported by the break meaning respite or relaxation, as in tea-break.

Both senses seem to have developed during the 19th century.


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Earliest usage of break meaning luck was predominantly USA, first recorded in according to Partridge. The term Brummie extends also to anything from Birmingham, and also more widely to the surrounding West Midlands region of the UK, especially when used by UK folk living quite a long way from Birmingham. Many English southerners, for example, do not have a very keen appreciation for the geographical and cultural differences between Birmingham and Coventry, or Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Interestingly, although considered very informal slang words, Brum and Brummie actually derive from the older mids English name for Birmingham: Brummagem, and similar variants, which date back to the Middle Ages.

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In past times Brummagem also referred informally to cheap jewellery and plated wares, fake coins, etc. The root word is bakh'sheesh in Arabic, notably from what was Persia now Iran , with variations in Urdu and Turkish, meaning a gift or a present. I am grateful for the following note from Huw Thomas in the Middle East: " It comes from the Arabic word bakh'sheesh, meaning 'free' or 'gift'.

In Arabic today, it refers to the tip given to a restaurant waiter. The precise reference to buck a male deer in this sense - buckshot, buckknife, or some other buckhorn, buckskin or other buck-related item - is not proven and remains open to debate, and could be a false trail. While 'pass the buck' seems generally accepted among the main dictionaries and references as card-playing terminology for passing the deal or pot, and is generally accepted as the metaphorical origin of the modern expression meaning to pass the problem or responsibility, uncertainty remains as to what exactly the buck was.

No-one knows for sure.

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To complicate matters further, buck and bucking are words used in card-playing quite aside from the 'pass the buck' expression referring to dealing. For example - an extract from the wonderful Pictorial History of the Wild West by Horan and Sann, published in , includes the following reference to Wild Bill Hickock: " He didn't wear down the two-inch heels of his sixty-dollar boots patrolling the streets to make law 'n order stick. He spent most of his time bucking the cards in the saloons This reference is simply to the word buck meaning rear up or behave in a challenging way, resisting, going up against, challenging, taking on, etc.

So while we can be fairly sure that the card-playing terminology 'pass the buck' is the source of the modern saying, we cannot be certain of what exactly the buck was. My thanks to S Karl for prompting the development of this explanation. I am grateful ack K Eshpeter for the following contributed explanation: "It wasn't until the s when Harry Truman became president that the expression took on an expanded meeting. Truman was a man of the people and saw the office of president of the US as a foreboding responsibility for which he had ultimate accountability.

He kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office to remind him of this and it is where the expression 'The Buck Stops Here' originated. Most people will know that bugger is an old word - it's actually as old as the 12th century in English - and that it refers to anal intercourse. A bugger is a person who does it. Bugger is the verb to do it. Buggery is the old word describing the act or offence, as was, and remains, in certain circumstances and parts of the world. It's all about fear, denial and guilt. What's more surprising about the word bugger is where it comes from: Bugger is from Old French end of the first millennium, around AD , when the word was bougre, which then referred to a sodomite and a heretic, from the Medieval Latin word Bulgarus, which meant Bulgarian, based on the reputation of a sect of Bulgarian heretics, which was alleged and believed no doubt by their critics and opponents to indulge in homosexual practices.

It is fascinating that a modern word like bugger, which has now become quite a mild and acceptable oath, contains so much richness of social and psychological history. In terms of fears and human hang-ups it's got the lot - religious, ethnic, sexual, social - all in one little word.

This metaphor may certainly have helped to reinforce the expression, but is unlike to have been the origin. More probable is the derivation suggested by Brewer in that first, bears became synonymous with reducing prices, notably the practice of short selling, ie. This terminology, Brewer suggests referring to Dr Warton's view on the origin came from the prior expression, 'selling the skin before you have caught the bear'. This proverb was applied to speculators in the South Sea Bubble scheme, c.

So was the huntsman by the bear oppressed, whose hide he sold before he caught the beast The bull and bear expressions have been in use since at least as far back as ; according to financial writer Don Luskin, reference and explanation of bull and bear meanings appears in the book Every Man His Own Broker, or, A Guide to Exchange Alley, by Thomas Mortimer.

Luskin says his 10th edition copy of the book was printed in Other references: David W. The bum refers both to bum meaning tramp, and also to the means of ejection, i. Bum also alludes to a kick up the backside, being another method of propulsion and ejection in such circumstances.

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Less easy to understand is the use of the word rush, until we learn that the earlier meaning of the word rush was to drive back and repel, also to charge, as in Anglo-French russher, and Old French russer, the flavour of which could easily have been retained in the early American-English use of the word. Hatchet is a very old word, meaning axe, and probaby derived from Old German happa for scythe or sickle.

The hatchet as an image would have been a natural representation of a commoner's weapon in the middle ages, and it's fascinating that the US and British expressions seem to have arisen quite independently of each other in two entirely different cultures. I am grateful Bryan Hopkins for informing me that in the Book of Mormon, a history of the ancient Native American Indians, an episode is described in which a large group ' This is not to say of course that the expression dates back to that age, although it is interesting to note that the custom on which the saying is based in the US is probably very ancient indeed.

Unrelated but interestingly, French slang for the horse-drawn omnibus was 'four banal' which translated then to 'parish oven' - what a wonderful expression. Bear in mind that a wind is described according to where it comes from not where it's going to. A South wind comes from the South.

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Sailing 'by' a South wind would mean sailing virtually in a South direction - 'to the wind' almost into the wind. Different sails on a ship favoured winds from different directions, therefore to be able to sail 'by and large' meant that the ship sailed well 'one way or another' - 'to the wind and off it'. Also, the expression used when steering a course of 'by and large' meant being able to using both methods of wind direction in relation to the ship and so was very non-specific. Early Scottish use of the word cadet, later caddie, was for an errand boy.

The golf usage of the caddie term began in the early s. Such warrants were used typically to enable a prisoner's freedom, or to imprison someone in the Bastille. The holder could fill in the beneficiary or victim's name.


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The practice was abolished on 15 January Heywood's collection is available today in revised edition as The Proverbs and Epigrams of John Heywood. Other sources suggest or later publication dates, which refer to revised or re-printed editions of the original collection. Heywood was a favourite playwright of Henry VIII, and it is probably that his writings gained notoriety as a result. The English language was rather different in those days, so Heywood's version of the expression translates nowadays rather wordily as 'would ye both eat your cake and have your cake?

Whether Heywood actually devised the expression or was the first to record it we shall never know. Etymologist Michael Quinion is one who implies that the main credit be given to Heywood, citing Heywood's work as the primary source. Quinion also mentions other subsequent uses of the expression by John Keats in and Franklin D Roosevelt in , but by these times the expression could have been in popular use.

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The word cake was used readily in metaphors hundreds of years ago because it was a symbol of luxury and something to be valued; people had a simpler less extravagant existence back then. Brewer tells of the tradition in USA slavery states when slaves or free descendents would walk in a procession in pairs around a cake at a social gathering or party, the most graceful pair being awarded the cake as a prize.

This also gave us the expression 'cake walk' and 'a piece of cake' both meaning a job or contest that's very easy to achieve or win, and probably although some disagree the variations 'take the biscuit' or 'take the bun', meaning to win although nowadays in the case of 'takes the biscuit' is more just as likely to be an ironic expression of being the worst, or surpassing the lowest expectations.

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