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Let's face it, words can be pretty boring. They don't talk, you can't eat them, they're not boobs. It's like, why even have them anymore?

However, just like superheroes, words have origin stories, and we guarantee that these six are about a thousand times less shitty than Wolverine.

6
Kibosh

Meaning:

Put an end to something.

Used Today:

"I'm putting the kibosh on this right now. You are NOT boning my sister."

Used Originally:

"I'm literally putting a kibosh on my head right now, because I am about to murder you."

"Kibosh" sounds like one of those amusing bits of gibberish that people make up out of nowhere, but that's not the case. In fact, some experts believe that "kibosh" comes from the Gaelic phrase "cie bais," pronounced "ky-bosh," which translates to cap of death, the black skullcap that would be donned by a judge as he prepared to sentence someone to execution, and it's apparently still used as a metaphor in Ireland today. Like the oranges in The Godfather, seeing a cie bais meant one thing: Someone was going to die.

With a name like "cap of death," we sort of would have preferred if it was a hat that shot lasers, but it's still a fairly badass origin story.

5
Push the Envelope

Meaning:

To take a dangerous risk, especially in conversation.

Used Today:

"You are REALLY pushing the envelope, trying to bone my sister!"

Used Originally:

"You are REALLY pushing the envelope, and as a result, a plane is going to explode."

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the "envelope" in question is a paper one, but you'd be wrong. It's mathematical.

Now, you may think that by adding math to an article that's already about words and history that we've officially thrown ourselves into a perfect storm of perpetual nerd virginity, but first hear us out. Mathematics is used to calculate a plane's limits in a construct called its "flight envelope." That is, the particular combination of speed, height, stress and other aeronautical factors that form the bounds of safe operation. Go beyond these limits, or "push" the "envelope," and you'll be dancing into the danger zone where the dancer becomes the dance, and the plane becomes a giant fireball.

Test pilots, of course, have to push the flight envelope all the time. By flying a plane beyond its mathematical limits, they can check that it'll be safe when flown within its limits and find out what parts might fail if the limits are pushed, all while running the risk of having the plane burst into flames. There's also the rarely spoken about unofficial risk of having the moon collide with the plane as a result of the strong, gravitational pull brought on by the pilot's massive, massive balls.

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4
Smart Alec

Meaning:

A wise guy, a know-it-all.

Used Today:

"Don't be a smart alec, I'm not letting you bone my sister no matter how funny you are. "

Used Originally:

"Don't be a smart alec; tell your whore wife to stop robbing me."

The most likely source of the term "smart alec," according to Professor Gerald Cohen, is an incredibly ballsy con artist called Alexander ("Alec") Hoag, who along with his hooker wife (man, his nickname is so much better than hers), swindled a string of horny men in New York in the 1840s.

It worked like this: When said hooker wife, Melinda, was "engaged" with a "client," Alec would "sneak" through a "secret panel in the wall" and "make off" with the guy's "stuff." When the client was finished, he would find to his horror that his wallet, pocketbook and/or watch had mysteriously vanished and, what's more, the police didn't want to help. Why? Because Alec, that devilish rogue, had paid off the cops, of course!


"Wow, they should call you generous alec!"

Unfortunately for our original smart Alec, he got a bit too clever. Instead of paying the crooked cops like a good honest man, he started to hide his plunder. Eventually, Hoag was busted and sent to jail where he met a wrongfully imprisoned newspaper editor named George Wilkes, who wrote his story down. The theory goes that either Wilkes or the police gave Hoag the nickname of "smart Alec" for being a clever thief who got too clever for his own good.

3
To Ride (Someone) Out of Town on a Rail

Meaning:

To severely punish someone with ridicule and public condemnation and, optimally, make sure they'll never work in their field/town again.

Used Today:

"Dude, I swear to god, if you bone my sister I will ride you out of town on a fucking rail. I hope you never come back!"

Used Originally:

"I am going to ride you out of town on a fucking rail. I hope your nuts enjoy splinters!"

Back in the American frontier days, a classic punishment was to banish someone from a town by literally "riding them out of town on a rail." Now, you might think that they would be escorted to the nearest transit station, shoved on the first available train and told never to come back. But that would be far too polite for frontier justice.


Boooooo.

No, the "rail" in question was the kind one builds fences with. Essentially, a long bar of wood, often with not much care taken in its construction, so it had lots of lumps and strange angles. The offender would be forcibly seated on this bar of wood, or "rail" if you will, borne upon the shoulders of two men (often part of a large angry mob of some description) and carried to the edge of town.

Now, if you're thinking "oh, that doesn't sound too bad, sounds like rather a nice ride actually," well, you're forgetting two things:

1. You'd be straddling a large, bumpy, lumpy, probably splinter-covered piece of wood, being carried roughly out of town by two men who probably didn't care how much they jostled you. Meaning you'd be lucky to get out of it with any junk left (and God help you if they decided to get some drive-thru on the way).

2. At the end of the journey, you'd be unceremoniously dumped into a ditch, often with a liberal application of tar and feathers to emphasize the point, which would be exceptionally painful, permanently disfiguring and almost certainly fatal, depending how much the townspeople hated you.


So much.

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2
(To Read) The Writing on the Wall

Meaning:

To foresee misfortune or disaster.

Used Today:

"Man, I can see the writing on the wall here. You shouldn't bone Mike's sister."

Used Originally:

"Man, I can see the writing on the wall here. God is going to straight up murder you."

Yep, this one comes from the Bible, which, as has been established, contains some particularly badass bits. This is no exception.


God: The Wu-Tang Clan of deities.

The Book of Daniel tells the story of a Babylonian king called Belshazzar, who was just one sin-lovin' motherfucker. Loved sin, this guy. We could tell you some stories. One night, he gathered all his disreputable friends and threw a magnificent feast where, as was the custom at the time, they blasphemed, made offerings to heathen gods, danced to heavy metal and generally sinned like some kind of goddamn sin-fueled sin brigade at the sin Olympics. It was nuts.

In any case, the biggest heresy of all came when Belshazzar and his cronies drank from cups his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. God's a lot of things, but he ain't no punk, and he was not about to stand for that shit. A disembodied hand appeared (presumably accompanied by some kickass guitar riffs) and began writing in glowing letters on the wall. All the wise men at the party gathered around and tried to figure out what they meant, but none of them could translate it.

Daniel was brought in, because this is sort of his thing, and told the king that the writing meant God was seriously pissed off. That very night, Belshazzar was killed and his kingdom swallowed up by Persia. The moral to this story: When a disembodied hand starts writing on the wall, you've fucked up royally.

1
Blockbuster

Meaning:

A hugely successful movie/play/book.

Used Today:

"Wait till you see the 'home movie' Mike's sister and I made, it's a real blockbuster."

Used Originally:

"Wait till you see the massive, devastating bomb Mike's sister and I made, it's a real blockbuster."

It's easy to assume, when you're standing in an endless line for the latest action flick National Transformers III , that "blockbuster" means the lines for a movie will be longer than a block. But that just wouldn't be badass enough, would it?

No, a "blockbuster" originally referred to one of THESE fuckers:


Source.

Yes, a "blockbuster" was once a huge bomb, weighing up to 12,000-pounds, that was dropped by the British Royal Air Force on German cities, so named because they were large enough to bust a whole city block. The British used these to politely bomb the fuck out of Germany during World War II.

After the war, advertisers hijacked the term "blockbuster" to describe a huge movie. So the term now used to describe the Twilight movies used to once refer to a device that caused pain and misery to thousands of innocent civilians.


Not too much has changed, then.




To see more of JD Niemand's work, visit his webcomic at http://www.drunkduck.com/Stickman_and_Cube.

Do you have something funny to say about a random topic? You could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow. Go here and find out how to create a Topic Page.

For more help with your Wordly Wise vocab, check out 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think and 8 Racist Words You Use Every Day.

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 1.19.2010) to see some blockbusting links from around the Internet.

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