Ode to Cliff


This is another installment of my “Ode to Cliff” columns. Cliff was the mailman on the television series Cheers, who sat at the end of the bar, spouting off the origins for sayings that were never right, but sounds vaguely familiar to someone I know.

Better Half. It is not uncommon to introduce our spouses as our “better half.” I do it all the time. The phrase comes from the Middle East where a Bedouin had insulted a prince and the prince had ordered the Bedouin to be put to death. The Bedouin’s wife pleaded with the prince not to kill her husband. The wife stated it was not her “whole” husband who had insulted the prince, but just half of her husband. She asserted that she made up the other half of her husband (the better half). She had not insulted the prince and the husband, she argued, was under the protection of the innocent half (the wife), thus the better half saving the weaker half.

Honeymoon. Today we think of the honeymoon as the trip newlyweds take after the marriage ceremony, usually to some cool location. The saying comes from a practice in Northern Europe where newly married couples were required to drink, every day for thirty days, wine from fermented honey (metheglin). It was believed that the sweetness of the wine would empower the relationship to be sweet forever. Some took the vow so seriously that they would literally drink themselves to death. Or maybe they realized they had made a mistake in their wedding and decided the best way out was thirty-days of drinking.

Mad Money. The saying has meant different things over the last century. Most recently, when a woman says she is going shopping and taking her “mad money,” it means her shopping is unplanned and she is getting back at her husband for something he said or did. “I am going shopping and I am going to use my mad money.”

The other meaning goes back to the turn of the 20th century when women started going on dates without chaperones. The smart woman would take money with her, just in case her date made unwanted advances, and she needed to leave and get home. She would have money to get a taxi to go home. For obvious reasons the woman would be “mad” at her date for putting her in that situation, thus the term, “mad money.”

Making Ends Meet. Today we think of the saying as trying to meet our financial obligations or having constant struggles to meet our financial ends. The saying originated in the 18th and 19th centuries when women wore corsets. The corsets required hooking or lacing the ends together for the dress to be worn properly. The woman wearing the dress would tell the person helping her, “to make sure the ends meet.”

As a woman’s status grew in society, she would buy more dresses and the prices would constantly increase. Eventually, the cost would become too much to maintain the extravagant lifestyle. People would then would remark, “she is having a hard time making ends meet.”

See you in McAllen!