“Fast” Phrases for NaNoWriMo Writers

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find.

quill and ink bottle
Microsoft Word Clip Art

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

“And the Winner Is…”: Award Names

On Sunday evening, the 84th Academy Awards show aired, bringing us red carpet designer dresses, movie clips, sappy speeches, and small statues handed to the luckiest attendees. I have long wondered why the naked golden guy sitting atop a pedestal is called Oscar. Have you?

For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s trace the origin of the Academy award names. How did we get the following?

Emmy. The Emmys are awarded for television excellence. The Television Academy started the show in 1949 and looked at over forty proposals before settling on the statuette designed by television engineer Louis McManus, who used his wife as a model. The winged woman holding an atom is supposed to represent both arts (wings of a muse) and science (atom). Then came the naming of the golden lady. Harry Lubcke, another television engineer and the third president of the Academy, suggested “Immy,” a term commonly used for the early image orthicon camera. His suggestion was changed to Emmy, a female name more consistent with the statuette itself.

Grammy. Here’s one that actually makes sense! This award presented by The Recording Academy is also called the gramophone award, a reasonable name given the appearance of a golden gramophone on the statuette. For those of you whose music experience has always involved CDs or MP3 players, a gramophone is an old-timey record player, the kind that played music from those huge black discs that went around and around with a tiny needle on the grooves. Shortened, the gramophone award is a Grammy. The Grammys have been given out since 1958, with the most recent ceremony on February 12.

Oscar. Officially called the Academy Award of Merit, this golden statuette has been known as Oscar since 1939. Oddly enough, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t know for certain where it got the name. Their best guess? A popular story has it that Academy librarian Margaret Herrick saw the trophy for the first time and said it resembled her Uncle Oscar. Given that the statuette is a golden knight sitting atop a reel of film, I have to wonder what this uncle was like.

Tony. Tony is the nickname for the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre. And now for the next question: Who the heck is Antoinette Perry? She was an actress, director, and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, which awards the Tonys. She passed away in 1946, and Brock Pemberton, producer and director, founded the Tony Awards in 1947 in her name. Brock and Antoinette worked together, co-founded the American Theatre Wing, and were romantically involved as well, so it was an apt tribute to Perry and the award recipients.

So are you a fan of awards shows? Which ones do you most enjoy? Which statuette do you like best?

Sources: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences – History of Emmy Statuette, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – The Oscar Statuette, The Recording Academy, Spinner.com – Grammy Awards History, Wikipedia, Tony Awards – Our History