Myth Trivia: Follow the Jargon of vettes and whippersnappers

Myth Trivia: Follow the Jargon of vettes and whippersnappers

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Exploring why we use the jargon we use - it all has a genesis from somewhere you whippersnapper you.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (May 28, 2010) An Italian Navy visit, board, search and seizure team returns to the Italian Navy (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jimmy C. Pan/Released)
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (May 28, 2010) An Italian Navy visit, board, search and seizure team returns to the Italian Navy (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jimmy C. Pan/Released)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 29, 2016 – Today our trivia features a potpourri of familiar terms and products that have interesting backgrounds.

1 – What is a “whippersnapper”?: Following the Brexit vote in the U.K. last week, some commentators were talking about “seasoned citizens” who chose to leave the EU and “whippersnappers” who wanted to stay.

We all know that, today, in general, a “whippersnapper” is a young, inexperienced person, but the idiom doesn’t get much use these days.

So where exactly did it originate?

Oddly enough, the term arises from another lesser known word that was primarily used in British jargon. Youngsters with little or nothing to do were known as “layabouts,” and apparently their favorite pastime was snapping whips.

Before they were called “layabouts,” the term for these ne’er-do-wells was the unimaginative phrase “whip snappers.” Later “whip snappers” combined with a 17th century expression for street smart youth who were known as “snipper snappers.”

Playwright Christopher Marlowe mentions “snipper snappers” in “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” published in 1604.

Over the centuries the meaning of the phrase has changed from the original reference to a young man with no ambition to become someone who has an abundance of get up and go as well as impudence.

Unfortunately, that’s about the best we could come up with to link trivia with Brexit, but we’ll try to do better in the future.

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2 – Making everything “ship shape”: When you hear the word “Corvette,” what comes to mind? If you said a popular Chevrolet sports car, you would be in the top percentile of respondents.

Known by many as simply a “Vette,” the sporty Chevrolet product has undergone seven generations since first being introduced as a convertible at the GM Motorama in 1953. Now manufactured in Bowling Green, the Corvette is the official sports car of Kentucky.

All of which is background for the real purpose of this bit of trivia. The truth is that “corvettes” have been around for decades as a major component of naval forces throughout the world. Myron Scott is credited with giving the automotive version the name “Corvette” because of the maneuverability of the corvette warship on the high seas.

Corvette ships were usually smaller than a frigate but larger than a sloop and typically had guns on a single deck.

“Hang on, Sloopy, hang on.”

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3 – How a decoy became a rat: In today’s parlance, everyone knows a “stool pigeon” is an informer, but back in the 1830s it had a completely different meaning. According to most modern dictionaries, in the middle of the 19th century hunters would nail a dead pigeon to a stool as a decoy.

Actually, the “stool” was more likely a tree stump since would-be Elmer Fudds would probably not carry a stool into the woods when a rotting stump was just as good.

It seems that the word comes from an archaic French word “estale” which described a pigeon used to lure a hawk into a net.

Later modified to “stale,” which showed up in English in the early 1400s, the word came to be a reference to someone who tried to entrap someone else.

By the end of the 15th century, that word morphed into the word “stall” which was thieves’ lingo for a pickpocket’s accomplice. The accomplice would distract the mark until the thief could complete his nimble fingered heist, thus “stalling for time.”

By the time the word was used in American English, it had likely evolved to “stool” to represent a decoy bird.

As for “pigeon,” the word has been used as English slang for more than 300-years to describe a person who allows himself to be swindled. It can also refer to someone who is stupid, a fool or a sucker.

Now putting all of this information together, it is extremely possible that police informers, who were actually unnamed “decoys,” would hang around bars while sitting on “stools” of course, trying to pick up bits of underworld gossip they could sell to law enforcement officers.

So, plain clothes “decoys” would drink beer while sitting on bar “stools” in order to entrap fellow law breakers.

It took a while to get there, but that’s how it all came about.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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