Is There a Fossil on Your Tongue?

Rob Kyff on

Have you ever wondered why "bravado" means a FALSE sense of courage?

"Bravado" is a linguistic fossil. It retains an old meaning of "brave" that vanished long ago: PRETENDING to be brave. Like a fossilized dinosaur bone, "bravado" provides hard evidence that a now-extinct meaning of "brave" once roamed the Earth.

Let's monitor the thoughts of the "renouned" linguistic paleontologist U. Stew Mean as he examines other fossil words...

-- mincemeat pie -- Hmmm... This pie contains no meat, but instead a mixture of dried fruit, nuts and spices.

Perhaps "meat" used to mean any kind of food or nourishment, not just the flesh of an animal. After all, the biblical phrase "meat and drink" means "food and drink." That's it!

-- farm team -- That baseball farm team might be digging out hard-hit grounders, but it's not cultivating the earth. It's a sports team owned or controlled by a larger entity.


Maybe "farm" once meant to lease the rights or use of something, such as land, in exchange for a fee. After all, we still speak of "farming out" work or business to others. Bingo!

-- keep at bay -- Hmmm... One meaning of the verb "bay" is "to bark," e.g., dogs "bay" at the moon. Thus, when we fend off attacking dogs or other dangers, we're keeping them "at bay" so they're barking (baying) instead of biting.

-- deer fly -- This pesky pest bites not only deer, but a wide variety of animals, including humans. Ouch!

Perhaps "deer" once meant any kind of animal. Shakespeare, for instance, referred to "mice and rats, and such small deer." Bullseye!


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