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Brass tacks, whale-the-synonym, midway

Brass tacks
I learned a new idiom! "getting down to brass tacks" Never having heard it before, I naturally assumed it was an English Englishism, but this page tells me that it was first attested in Texas in 1863.

"getting down to brass tacks"

I use it myself
I know it well.
I have heard it before.
It's unfamiliar.
Brass tacks?

It suddenly struck me last week that "whale" as a synonym for human fatness, along with "blubber", seemed distinctly American to me (as opposed to British). True?

At dinner last week after her BSFA interview, Jo Fletcher wondered what a midway ride was. We settled on a "fair ride" as the closest easy translation.

Then this week, I read Drop Dead, Gorgeous (thanks to impulse library browsing), a large swathe of which takes place at an Iowa State Fair fairground which really does not resemble the original. For example: what main building? And if you had a large fairground designed to host tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, would you keep it closed 50 weeks a year if you could possibly use it a fair number of other weeks of the year for other events? By the time our main characters have done an incoherent tour of various farflung bits of the grounds, they could have been out of an exit many times over; but they were waiting for "the" exit.

Also, and more relevantly, the well-known really-tall slide is no indication at all that they are on the midway. Because it isn't.


Oct. 4th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
As Fatty "Deathfat!" McFattypants, I'm not sure I know whether the term "whale" is used regularly on both sides of the Atlantic to refer to my type of body. I didn't come to the UK until after my discovery of fat/size acceptance, so I don't tend to read material that attacks fat people much and, statistically, I think my size is less encountered in the UK anyway and the only person I knew who was around my size (Siggy) certainly never called herself anything derogatory.

Interestingly, Webster's online includes the definition "one that is impressive especially in size " but the closest the OED gets to that is " fig. phr. a whale on …, having a great capacity or appetite for…, very good at or keen on.‥ a whale of (orig. U.S.): ‘no end of’. colloq." with the most notable example being '1913 19th Cent. Sept. 621 [They] had what the Americans call ‘a whale of a good time’.'

So, I would say that the idea of the whale as something large (and therefore a fat person being large and whale-like) is probably more American in its derivation?

Oct. 4th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
Grargh. And I do not know why it decided to put in all the ridiculous hyperlinks. Sorry!
Oct. 5th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
I've encountered at least one 19th-c "Prince of Whales" joke about the Regent, so there must be some history of whale=fat, or at least big.
Oct. 6th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC)
By his bulk and by his size,
By his oily qualities,
This (or else my eyesight fails),
This should be the Prince of Whales.

Nearly 200 years old, by Charles Lamb and still one of the most amusing attacks on a British royal. The whole poem it comes from, by the way, can be read here
Oct. 4th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
Interesting that it gives "having a whale of a time" as origin US because that's a common UK phrase too, though if it's been in use over here since 1913, then that explains why I'm so familiar with it. :)