HOME: The Story of Maine

"Trails, Rails, and Roads," Lesson 1: Language and Transportation

Answers to Idiom List*

Meaning and Origin
Dooryard visit, or dooryard callAlthough still used with automobiles, this meant a buggy visit when the occupants didn't descend to come into the house. It was a neighborly call, in passing.
Like a train of cars, or going to beat the cars Using a railroad train as a unit of speed and also suggesting some clatter and excitement. Moving right along.
Potato bug The man on the freight trains who stoked the small stoves in the line cars. He lived in carbon monoxide and always had a cough and a pasty look.
Rimwracked Wagon and buggy were made of four parts: hub, spoke, felloe (rim) and tire. The spokes fitted into holes in the felloe, and in time the holes would wear larger and the spokes would wear smaller. A thing old, past its use, misshapen, toppling, etc. is rimwracked in Maine parlance. A person crippled or aged can be rimwracked.
Sandpaper the anchor A job that doesn't need doing, can't be done and isn't attempted. Heard almost entirely as a command to get the children out from under foot: "Why don't you two go and sandpaper the anchor," i.e. get lost.
Take the wind out of his sailsIt now means any maneuver that deflates an opponent, ruins his argument, and leaves him with nothing to say. Any racing sailor knows the derivation; a boat to windward will blanket leeward sails, and before the blanketed boat can recover it is often out of the race.

Stem to stern In full, stem to sternpost; from the very front of the boat to the very rear. Hence, completely and overall.

Corduroy; To hit the corduroyFrom the ribbing on a corduroy cloth, a road or bridge in the Maine woods made with logs laid crosswise of traffic on stringers. On log-hauls, the bumpy surface would be covered with dirt, snow, and ice, and rendered excellently smooth, but otherwise corduroy construction would jounce travelers out of their socks. To "hit the corduroy" is to experience a wild surprise.
To find a hole in the beach.To anchor in an emergency harbor because of storm or fog. To find a place to put up for the night when traveling, a motel.
Yes-marmThat unexpected dip or bump in the road that jolts the buggy seat. Yes-marm or thank-you-marm is a startle response: a sleeping boy nudged in school by his teacher would awake with a start and say, "Yes, ma'am!" Similar to when a bump in the road jerks you out of your socks. The hummock itself is called a yes-marm.
Baggin' the bowlineBotching the job; someone who doesn't know what he or she is talking about is baggin' his or her bowlines. All useful seafaring knots had a double function-to hold fast as desired, but to come undone quickly and esaily when required. When the bowline is bagged, it does not come apart smoothly. Another explanation of this phrase is that the bowline holding the weather edge of a sail must be rightly set or the sail will bag, making for sloppy sailing. Can be used to call someone a liar.
Balled upIn soft and wet snow, a horse's steel shoes would gather snowballs until he could hardly walk, let alone pull his load. Teamsters would watch for this and knock them off. To be all balled up is to be in no condition to respond: "I got so balled up I forgot what I was going to say!"
Coiled his ropes.Died. A good seaman coiled his lines neatly after work.
Luff and bear awayThis sailing term for maneuvering downwind is used ashore to tell a child underfoot to get out of the way. See "sandpaper the anchor."
Mud SeasonSince paved roads, this term has lost some of its pithiness. Mud season was Maine's fifth season (the others are Fall, Winter, Spring, and July). When the frost was leaving the ground, teaming was suspended, the dooryard was a lully (a muddy mess), and everybody took off their boots on the doorstep.
One lungerThe first gasoline engines offered for marine and farm use had one cylinder or "lung." The term persists for any contrivance whose efficiency might be better.

*Idioms and origins from Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, & Wazzats, by John Gould. Camden: Down East Magazine. 1975.

Go to the top