6 Slang Terms With Surprisingly Badass Origins

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


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.


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.

#2. (To Read) The Writing on the Wall


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


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:


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.

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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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