BOOKS: Animologies

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1996:

Animologies: “A fine kettle of fish” & 150
other animal expressions, by Michael
Macrone. Cader Books (151 E. 29th St., New York,
NY 10016), 1995. 160 pp., $14.95 hardback.

Michael Macrone takes a colorful crack at explaining
the origins of animal-related phrases, but misses absurdly
often––failing, for instance, to recognize that “dingbat” is
a typographical term, not animal-related, originally applied
to the ornamental battens that kept a hand-operated letterpress
from “dinging” a sheet of paper by forcing it against an
uneven surface. Macrone is equally bewildered by “bat out
of hell,” having apparently never seen bats boiling from a
cavern at sunset. And he asserts that, “Dylan Thomas
coined ass—- in a 1935 letter.” Many people still alive can
testify otherwise.

Macrone cites credible evidence that “swing a cat”
and “independent as a hog on ice,” among others, originally
had no reference to animals. But to me “independent as a
hog on ice” will always describe the battle I saw one heroic
hog wage as drovers tried to drag him to slaughter one snowy
morning near Farnham, Quebec. A thousand pounds of sliding
pig knocking cursing men and their prods galley-west is
an awesome sight. I wish I could have helped him get away.

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