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Aug 27, 2023
This week’s theme
Terms used figuratively

This week’s words
gilded cage
cold feet
golden handcuffs

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Relative usage over time

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AWADmail Issue 1104

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

Sponsor’s Message: The Wiseacre’s Guide to Life is a FREE e-book that’ll show you how to live like a recalcitrant king (or queen). “Ivy-League.” “Woohoo!” Smarten up, for nothing.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

What’s the World’s Oldest Language?
Scientific American

Stepping Into Raymond Chandler’s Shoes Showed Me the Power of Fiction
The New York Times

From: Jim Rapp (jim.rapp.arizona gmail.com)
Subject: gilded cage

I’ve been singing in barbershop choruses and quartets for 30 years. “A Bird in a Golden Cage” is a true barbershop chestnut, written in 1900. But it wasn’t sung much by the time I started singing in the early 1990s.

It is a Tin Pan Alley song whose author, Harry Von Tilzer, wrote a ton of great, very easy-to-harmonize songs that were popular in the childhood days of the first organized barbershop singers, about 25 of whom organized the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) in 1938. Some insiders refer to it as “Some People Especially Baritones Should Quit Singing Altogether”. I can say that because I am one.

This Wikipedia entry about the song gives the lyrics; you can see why it was a hit in the latter days of the Old West.

I’ve lived in Tucson for 20 years and have been to Tombstone several times. There is a theater from around the 1880s there that’s called the Bird Cage. At balcony level are small suites all around three sides of the theater. The story goes that gentlemen (?) and their lady (?) friends would enjoy the theater from them... or close the drapes and enjoy each other. I’ve often wondered if the theater was connected to Von Tilzer’s song.

Jim Rapp, Tucson, Arizona

From: Ren Draya (ren.draya blackburn.edu)
Subject: gilded cage

Maya Angelou’s memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, well illustrates the truths of a cage -- gilded or societal.

Ren Draya, Professor Emeritus, Blackburn College, Medora, Illinois

From: Barry Palevitz (bpclaylover8 gmail.com)
Subject: Gilded cage

That’s an AWFUL pic to illustrate the phrase. Despite being a work of art it’s totally inappropriate in this era to be using a pic of a woman subjugated in chains!

Barry A. Palevitz, Athens, Georgia

From: Herman Axelrod (hermanaxelrod comcast.net)
Subject: Gilded Cage

As a teenager in the 1950s, I often visited the Gilded Cage in center city Philadelphia. It was a comfortable hang-out where one could get hot apple juice, play chess, discuss books, and meet like-minded people. Thanks for bringing up the memory.

Herman Axelrod, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

From: Mark Baldwin (baldwinm78 yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cheeseparing

I didn’t know there was a name for it! One of the things I do is save nickels. Nickels are the only US coin whose metal content is worth about what the face value is. Sometimes more sometimes less, depending on the price of copper and nickel.

Mark Baldwin, Raleigh, North Carolina

From: Laura Burns (laurab12 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Cheeseparing

According to Brewer’s 1898 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a cheeseparer shaves the rind off his cheese, the allusion being to a story about a man who selected one of three sisters as his wife by the way they pared their cheese.

Laura Burns, Galveston, Texas

From: Tim Hay (pigpoppy rocketmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cheeseparing

As a “pair” with cheeseparing, I submit the word I’ve coined to explain my wife’s compulsion to save the slivers of soap that have shrunk to the point of frustration of shower use: soaparing or should that be soapparing?

Tim Hay, Bellevue, Washington

From: Lawrence Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cold feet

The Tundra cartoon for Aug 20 includes two Inuit standing outside an igloo. One says “When he said he was getting cold feet, I was gonna cancel the wedding. Then I remembered where we live.”

Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

From: Christine Romeiser (christine.romeiser web.de)
Subject: to have cold feet

The German language also has the expression: kalte Fuesse bekommen (to have or to get cold feet).

The origin is explained as follows: First documented by the poet Fritz Reuter in the middle of the 19th century in this autobiographically tinged novel Ut Mine Stromtid (“My Time as an Intern”); at that time, forbidden gambling mostly took place in dark, cold basement rooms, and if one of the players felt that he could lose soon, he would leave the gaming table with the excuse that he had gotten cold feet. So he could perhaps das Gesicht wahren (save face), another beautiful image in our languages, which refers to the body.

Christine Romeiser, Kleve, Germany

From: Brad Farran (nauticalcore gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cold feet

I find it funny that the origin of the expression “cold feet” appears unknown. It strikes me as the rather natural metaphorical opposite of the expression “hotfoot”, a swift, unplanned reaction to a given situation. As in, “We had to hotfoot it out of there before things got any worse.”

Brad Farran, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

From: Stefan Kalmelid (stefan kalmelid.net)
Subject: Cold feet

Living up in Sweden, with a similar climate as Britain, the etymology of cold feet has always seemed obvious to me.

The sea water, even in summer, is often quite cold. So you get into the water and get your feet wet and cold. Then you decide that the water isn’t warm enough today either and get back onto the beach.

Stefan Kalmelid, Linköping, Sweden

From: Steve Benko (stevebenko1 gmail.com)
Subject: Cold feet origin

Your wonderment at why it’s cold feet instead of cold fingers was irresistible to a curious mind. I found this article with two plausible explanations, both of which date the phrase earlier than you suggested (though in one case, not in English, and in the other, not with a related meaning, so your documentation is still accurate as far as I have uncovered).

In both instances, it seems to be a metaphor for having no money. This suggests a derivation having to do with going barefoot, or wearing shoes or socks with holes in them, due to lack of funds. In the 1862 German novel cited, this results in a card player who has lost everything leaving the table. It’s easy from there to see the evolution to walking away from a situation for other, more emotional, reasons.

In the cited 1605 play by Ben Jonson, a character denies being “cold on my feet” also meaning penniless. That similar meaning between the two uses, one in 1862 Germany and one in 1605 England, is likely indicative of a common origin which could plausibly be the Italian proverb to which the article refers.

Steve Benko, New York, New York

From: Graham Sutton (grahams99 outlook.com)
Subject: Cold feet

The church in Kildare, Ireland, was founded by St Brigid circa 480 AD. Her successor was St Durlagdach, who as a young nun lodged with Brigid, but one night she snuck out for a tryst with a soldier lad. (A miracle right there, as standing armies didn’t exist until many centuries later.) But then she got cold feet.

“I know, I’ll fill my shoes with burning coals; that should save me from temptation.”

This done, she traipsed back to the convent like a van with a dirty exhaust. Come morning, Brigid not only proved a miraculous chiropodist but assured Durlagdach that she was now safe from the flame of impurity and the fire of hell.

Graham Sutton, West Yorks, UK

Email of the Week brought to you by The Wiseacre’s Guide to Life -- A FREE “Ivy-League” e-book. Learn more.

From: Gary Beach (glbeach gmail.com)
Subject: golden handcuffs

Years ago I was working for a company whose work environment made me and my family very unhappy. But between the pay, the retirement plan (you were only vested after seven years), and having a home mortgage and several mouths to feed, at that time I could see no alternative but to stay. I was bound by golden handcuffs. I know many people of my age suffered through the same issues -- where I was miserable, but not quite miserable enough to leave.

There is only one thing worse than being economically exploited and that is NOT being economically exploited. Oh well, sometimes going through a bit of misery helps us to recognize joy when it comes later.

Gary Beach, Richardson, Texas

From: John D. Laskowski (john.laskowski mothman.org)
Subject: ephemera

The biological use of the word ephemera is evident in the name of the short-lived aquatic insects in the order Ephemeroptera.

John D. Laskowski, Carsonville, Pennsylvania

From: Robert Burns (robertburns oblaw.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ephemera

Outside of a séance, when have you ever heard this word used? Who thinks that we had to go rob a silo of Greek words to come up with one to fulfill this purpose?

Robert Burns, Ocean Beach, California

From: Charles Peek (cpeek.cp gmail.com)
Subject: Metaphors

When I was teaching, I would ask students to construct their own metaphor. One young man just sat looking at his notebook, so I asked if he was having trouble with this. Yes he was, he told me, and explained why. He said, “Because where I come from we don’t go in much for flowery language.” I said, “Write it down, you’ve finished the assignment.”

Chuck Peek, Kearney, Nebraska

To Dive or Not to Dirve
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: cold feet and ephemera

We’ve all had second thoughts, or gotten cold feet when confronted by especially daunting challenges. We’re at the tipping point. It’s either go for it, or concede that discretion is the better part of valor... and don’t.

Fleeting Pleasures
Blowing bubbles, either the soapy liquid variety or the bubble-gummy kind, for many kids of a certain age (and kids-at-heart) are two fun ephemeral pursuits. Bubbles come... and bubbles go. Here, Froggy clearly hasn’t quite gotten the hang of blowing bubbles.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: Terms used figuratively
1. Gilded cage
2. Cheeseparing
3. Cold feet
4. Ephemera
5. Golden handcuffs
= 1. Fortune-hunter missy’s fate
2. Scraped
3. Impel, egg, chicken-out, flee
4. E.g. flash
5. Deemed dedicated, lever high wages
= 1. Seems ideal, yet cramped
2. Frugal method
3. Evade frightened
4. Fleeting presence
5. Such high wages, I do feel stuck
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com) -Josiah Winslow, Franklin, Wisconsin (winslowjosiah gmail.com)
This week’s theme: Terms used figuratively
1. Gilded cage
2. Cheeseparing
3. Cold feet
4. Ephemera
5. Golden handcuffs
= 1. Have riches, lack freedom
2. He seems stingy
3. Undecided; engaged might hedge, waffle...flee
4. Relics
5. Put to pasture
= 1. Hasn't cuffs/filth
2. Deemed/gauged meagre, light
3. Faltered, eschewed
4. Curios
5. Employee incentives, e.g. had perks
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz)

Make your own anagrams and animations.


Gilded cage

Modern women want freedom, they say.
Independence to do it their way.
They’re not gilded cage dames
Playing chauvinists’ games --
And they might turn the tables one day.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

The prince was bemoaning his fate:
“Though Kensington’s really ornate,
It’s a big gilded cage,”
The young royal would rage,
“And being the spare isn’t great.”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

As Nora approached middle age,
She said, “Torvald, no more gilded cage!
In this play A Doll’s House,
Ibsen says I’m no mouse!”
And she exited left, filled with rage.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


Ebenezer, that cheeseparing fool,
Once personified mean -- “It’s my rule!” --
Till three ghosts changed his ways,
And he ended his days
Quite convinced prodigality’s cool.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Because of his cheeseparing past,
Great wealth has the fellow amassed.
But he’s stuck in his ways,
And so nowadays
Each dollar he’s still holding fast.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“Oh my! All the flesh that she’s baring!”
“But so skinny, a look that’s cheeseparing.”
“Calvin Klein is her boss;
Brought her fame. She’s Kate Moss.”
“But her doctors and mother she’s scaring.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Cold feet

Did you say that you’re too scared to meet
That young lady who, you thought, was sweet?
So just put on your Crocs,
And pull up your socks.
Perhaps that will cure your cold feet.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

The bride left her beau at the altar,
And frankly, I just couldn’t fault her.
She’d gotten cold feet,
Then beat a retreat --
But now I feel bad for poor Walter.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“Though I robbed you,” Paul sadly told Pete,
“It wasn’t without some cold feet.
But I hadn’t been paid,
And at night on my raid
Of the fridge there was only old meat.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


I revisit belle Paris most nights --
With my lover. We take in the sights.
Menus, tickets, a bill --
Just ephemera -- thrill
As the mem’ry attached reignites.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

Ephemera cluttered their house,
And often her husband would grouse.
When she’d heard quite enough,
She kept all her stuff
And simply got rid of her spouse.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“What I’m interested in is ephemera:
Letters, postcards and tickets, et cetera,”
The collector explained.
“I don’t care that it’s stained
If it has my name on it -- I’m Deborah.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Golden handcuffs

“Golden handcuffs...” “You mean gilded cage?”
“No. they’re diff’rent.” “Enlighten me, sage.”
“Well the cage, I suggest,
Keeps a spouse in the nest.”
“And the cuffs?” “In a job till old age.”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

With great golden handcuffs you’re trapped,
And so you must learn to adapt.
But please don’t complain;
I beg you, refrain!
For millionaires that isn’t apt.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

She disliked it, but nevertheless
If forced to, she’d likely confess
With all of its quirks
The job offered perks.
Golden handcuffs explained it, I guess.
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

Fred said, “They can’t pay me enough.
To do this job is very tough.
And there is no way
They can get me to stay.
Not even a golden handcuff!”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

An executive gets golden handcuffs;
In the trenches a laboring man puffs.
He has dreams, though: “Those orcs
At HQ are all dorks,
But someday I’ll have magic like Gandalf’s.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


The Lafayette, Louisiana, museum had a gold-painted statue called “The Gilded Cage-un.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

As Ms. Radner kept wild animals as pets, her husband Gene Wilder would assure people they invited for dinner that Gilded cage the beasts before their arrival.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Vot’s de matchmaker up to?” asked Tevye.
“Cheeseparing up our daughter Tseitel vith Lazar Wolf, ze butcher!” answered Golde.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“You need either a radio tuned to ephemera CD player to listen to my music these days,” said the classical violinist.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“If they’re people, why don’t we s-cold feet-uses like we do other children?” demanded the pro-choice activist.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“When Queen Elizabeth wishes to show displeasure, her gloved golden handcuffs the flirting Earl of Essex’s face,” said her lady in waiting.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“If ya don’t score a golden handcuffs are what ya gonna be led away in,” said Eliot Ness when Al Capone suggested trial by soccer.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Gangster Rap
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Gangster rap

Last week’s 41-count indictment of Trump and his 18 co-conspirators for 2020 election interference brought by District Attorney Fani Willis, resurrects the RICO statute (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act), historically used to prosecute gangsters and kindred hardcore criminals. The act focuses on organized crime in which the cited persons set up coercive, fraudulent, extortionary, or other coordinated illegal schemes. Trump and his accomplices check all the boxes in that regard.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road. -William Least Heat-Moon, travel writer (b. 27 Aug 1939)

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