Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find.
Many of my fellow writers are knee-deep in their manuscripts and focused on making substantial progress this month. Why? Well, it’s November, and that means is National Novel Writing Month — better known as NaNoWriMo. (It’s also a hashtag on Twitter: #nanowrimo.) Participating writers are aiming to write 50,000 words to get a complete, or mostly complete, draft of a novel.
In honor of them, I was thinking about how they are writing. They are writing fast, but there must be more fanciful ways of saying that. So here are few phrases for NaNoWriMo writers. You, my friends, are…
Writing like the wind. A phrase probably from horse riders, who felt they were going really fast when they seemed to match the speed of the wind.
Burning rubber. Driving your car at high speeds can result in some rubber peeling off when you turn your wheels. I tried to research just how fast you have to go to “burn rubber,” but I couldn’t find that useful piece of information. But when you burn rubber, you can feel it and smell it.
Greased lightning. You might think this phrase also relates to cars, especially after the song by this name from the musical Grease (1978). However, its first use occurred in 1832, long before cars hit the road. If you grease something, it can move faster. And what’s faster than lightning? Well, greased lightning.
Lickety-split. “Lickety” is not a word on its own, so where did this expression originate? It’s another one that came around in the 1830s and showed up in print in 1843. Interestingly, other formations were “lickety click,” “lickety cut,” and “lickety switch.” Who knows why “split” made its mark and left the others behind? Some suggest that the licking part is what intimates fast, maybe like that grease thing of moistening something up to make it move faster. Or perhaps it’s a rhyming thing.
Like a bat out of hell. No, this one didn’t come from Meat Loaf, although his album of the same name might have upped our usage of the phrase. Bats have long been associated with the occult and evil (the original Dracula, anyone?), and it was suggested that they came from the bowels of hell. If you were flying out of hell, you’d want to go at top speed, wouldn’t you? Well, as a matter of fact, bats can fly up to 40 miles per hour, but they can dive at up to 80 miles per hour. No wonder this phrase means fast.
Writing a blue streak. “Blue streak” hails all the way back to the early 18th century. The streak likely refers to a streak of lightning. But why is the streak blue? We don’t know. Blue is sometimes used to mean obscene (e.g., “blue blazes”) and sometimes top-notch (e.g., “blue chip” stocks). So one of those might be responsible. Having studied fires for a mystery novel involving arson, I also wonder if blue here could mean especially hot. A flame that appears blue ranges between 2,600 and 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (think Bunsen burner).
Now that you’re armed with phrases meaning fast, which one are you most likely to use? Do you have others to suggest?
Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary – grease; StraightDope.com; The Phrase Finder – lickety-split; Word Detective; MaggieMaggio.com: Fire II – Color and Temperature; The Phrase Finder – bat out of hell; Batslive.pwnet.org – Questions and Answers about Bats