I’ve recently taken to using archaic, or otherwise outdated words and phrases in casual conversation. It’s not because I think it makes me look smart (I wear a bow-tie with its own little pocket protector for that), but because I think it’s hilarious when I talk to my students with a little “You lost your pick? Odds-blood!” and “You broke a string? Awwww, applesauce! Must’a bought that little jitney with some wooden nickles, I’m supposin’!” action. One day I caught myself using more of these words and phrases than I could count, and I seriously have no idea why they decided to sneak into my vernacular. I mean, I haven’t been watching any 1570′s television lately, and I can’t for the life of me get the frozen head of Al Jolson to start talking (though I’m told that the secret is ‘bees’). Luckily, teh internetz has all the tools I need, as well as some leftover English books from university (I’ll get around to eating them eventually).
Most often uttered by the thunder-god Thor, “Zounds” is a mild oath ( or a ‘minced oath‘) dating back to at least 1592 that literally means “God’s Wounds”. God would then bleed out his God’s Blood, or ‘Odds-Blood’. Readers of The Mighty Thor may recognize this hackneyed writing.
Another minced oath, and similar to the one above, this one has a few layers. ‘Odds’ is an altered form of ‘God’s', same as above. A bodkin is a slender spike used for piercing hard surfaces (you may have heard of a bodkin arrow), but in this context, it borrows from the earlier ‘bodikin’, meaning ‘body’, so the slang is a minced oath to mean “God’s Body”. When it was first used in Elizabethan-England, this kind of phraseology was far too presumptive in such a puritanical society, but William Shakespeare did it often, with an incredible sense of condescension and disdain for the prevailing culture that only a hipster would dare try….but, you know…he did it with talent, and without the need for vintage clothing shops and ironic soft drinks:
POLONIUS: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
HAMLET: God’s bodkin, man, much better. Use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
(Hamlet, Act II scene 2)
”I will use them according to their desert?“ What the hell? No wonder I was so bad at this stuff in high school. What this passage means is, in a rough nutshell(say, a walnut’s), is that Polonius will utilize the talents of the players according to their abilities (deserved–> deserts), and Hamlet says that Polonius is being a pompous little jerk, and that he should take great pains to treat them better then they deserve….for if the players turn out to suck so hard, then Polonious will look all the better. Very Machiavellian now that I think about it.
I had desperately hoped that this one dealt with a man punching a cod, or indeed any other fish in the face.
This one has been ultimately lost to the depths of time and piracy. It’s probably an altered portmanteau of Black-Guard, a menial laborer in a large household, or the grunt-servants of an army. It’s since been co-opted to mean a person of unsavory nature/character.
One theory suggests that the term is a reference to the Flatiron Building, a notable New York landmark located on 23rd street. As visitors to the site today have noted, the peculiar shape of the building creates unusual air currents in the area, which sometimes have amusing effects on those walking by. In the early 1900s, women wore long skirts and rarely showed their ankles, and allegedly men would gather around the Flatiron to watch their skirts flip up in the breeze. Police were said to be giving men the ’23 skidoo’ when they dispersed the groups. (source)