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Posts Tagged ‘1880s’

Chasing The Dragon

Posted by Admin on April 12, 2016

Originally, chasing the dragon was a reference to inhaling the vapors from opium.  Over time, it meant to chase after the elusive first-time high one got from a drug as the body develops greater and greater tolerance levels.  At that point, the chase was at the expense of the user’s for his or her health, wealth, and/or sanity.  Most recently, it refers to the pursuit of something you will never achieve or own.

Idiomation first heard the term used in the movie, “From Hell” which was set in 1888 in London (Whitechapel to be exact).  The main character (played by Johnny Depp) was a police detective who was chasing the dragon (in reference to his recreational drug use). The term was used a handful of times in the movie.

However, a study published on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) website titled, “Heroin Smoking by Chasing The Dragon: Origins and History” claim that the term was from 1920s Shanghai.

In September 5, 1983 the New Strait Times (published in Kuala Lumpur) reported on drug arrests in Ipoh (Malaysia).  After coordinated raids in Menglembu, Kuala Kang, and Pengkaian Pegoh regions, police arrested four dadah addicts.  The four men had fled police, and upon capturing them, the police seized two straw tubes of heroin.  The article was titled, “Chasing The Dragon: One Caught.”

The Spokesman-Review published on February 13, 1961 brought news from Hong Kong where it was reported that more than half of the over 18,000 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment were guilty of drug offenses.  The idiom chasing the dragon was used in explaining the situation where heroin and morphine (byproducts of opium poppies) weren’t grown locally, and supplies were being smuggled into Hong Kong from abroad.  The second paragraph in the story stated this:

This is just one proof of the size of the drug problem facing the authorities in this British colony where, according to a special government report, as many as one in every 12 of the population may be indulging in the habit of “chasing the dragon” — taking dope.

This wasn’t just a problem in Hong Kong.  It was a global problem, and affected those in America according to the 1961 “Narcotic Officer’s Handbook” which stated:

In ‘chasing the dragon‘ the heroin and any diluting drug are placed on a folded piece of tinfoil.  This is heated with a taper and the resulting fumes inhaled through a small tube of bamboo or rolled up paper.  The fumes move up and down the tinfoil with the movements of the molten powder resembling the undulating tail of the mythical Chinese dragon.

In the book, “An Introduction to the Work of a Medical Examiner: From Death Scene to Autopsy Suite” by  John J. Miletich and Tia Laura Lindstrom, the authors claim (as does the NCBI study mentioned earlier) that heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s, and spread across Eastern Asia before making the leap to the U.S. in the 1930s.  The moniker chasing the dragon (according to the authors) didn’t show up until the early 1950s.

This is attested to in Jay Robert Nash’s book, “Dictionary of Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement.”

But how did chasing the dragon come to be used in the movie, “From Hell?

Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as an anesthetic because it constricted blood vessels during surgery which limited bleeding (safer drugs introduced after that time replaced cocaine in the operating theater).

Cocaine had been illegal in China (from whence it came) until 1858, and was legalized, hoping to curb drug addiction and bolster the economy.  Within twenty-five years of legalizing cocaine, it was among the top causes of social anxiety.  In 1882, opium dens in the United States (in California especially) were getting out of hand, which led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Use of the drug in China peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and began to steadily increase in England and the United States at the same time.

So while it’s true that in 1880s, some drug addicts were chasing the dragon, the term chasing the dragon was not in use at that time — or for some time after.  The term made its way into the movie because it was a term someone associated with the movie had heard used to describe the activity in which Johnny Depp’s character was involved.

Idiomation is unable to pinpoint a date for this idiom, mostly because there are so many conflicting sources laying claim to when smoking cocaine came into vogue in countries outside of China.  Maybe one of our Idiomation supersleuths has the answer to the question?

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blimey

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2016

Sometimes you’ll hear people say blimey or cor blimey as if they were residents of the UK.  The exclamation is one used to express surprise, excitement, or alarm.  The thing is, it seems to be used far more often by Americans and Canadians than by those from the UK.

Of course, part of the linkage is due to how blimey is used.  For example, in the March 27, 2016 Windsor Star in Windsor (Ontario, Canada), Sharon Hill reported on a British store and gift shop in Harrow, Ontario.  Set to celebrate its second anniversary in April, the shop is named Blimeys British Store and Gift Shop, and the article was titled, “Blimey: Award-winning British Shop In Harrow Still Surprising Customers.”

The previous week, Mike Tighe of the LaCross Tribune in Wisconsin (USA) wrote about the La Crosse Community Theatre auditions for their anticipated presentation of “Billy Elliot.”  The journalist made sure to use all kinds of British slang.  He made sure to mention that damp squib was British slang for total failure, and that gobsmacked was British slang for stunned.  He made sure readers knew that blinding was British slang for superb, and he made sure to include blimey in the headline, “Blimey: LCT Gets Smashing Cast for Billy Elliot.”

Even Sergio Ramos — who happens to be a Real Madrid defender — used the expression in an article published in Diario AS published in Madrid (Spain) on March 30, 2016.

Sometimes, when I’m in the shower, I start singing my head off. Lyrics just come to me and I think, ‘Blimey, what a lovely tune!’. For me, music’s a big part of my life and I take it into my professional life and share it with my team mates, and enjoy it.”

But do British newspapers and journalists use the word?  James Hall of the Telegraph used it in his  March 25, 2016 review of Ellie Goulding’s performance.  Near the end of his review titled, “Ellie Goulding Needs To Find Her Personality,” he wrote:

The other reason that Goulding needs a break was her banter. I got no sense of her personality from her between-song chat. Of course, Adele-style ‘cor blimey’ expletive-laden confessionals are not for everyone, but Goulding missed a chance to connect. There’s a fine line between saying you’re shy and appearing like you’re going through the motions.

In the 1997 play, “Home: A Play In Two Acts” by English playwright, screenwriter, award-winning novelist and a former professional rugby league player, David Storey (born 13 July 1933), the expression made its way into the Kathleen’s dialogue near the beginning of Act I.

MARJORIE:
Going to rain, ask me.

KATHLEEN:
Rain all it wants, ask me.  Cor … blimey!  Going to kill he is this.

MARJORIE:
Going to rain and catch us out here.  That’s what it’s going to do.

KATHLEEN:
Going to rain all right, in’t it?  Going to rain all right … Put your umbrella up — Sun’s still shining.  Cor blimey.  Invite rain that will.  Commonsense girl … Cor blimey .. My bleedin’ feet.

MARJORIE:
Out here and no shelter.  Be all right if it starts.

KATHLEEN:
Cor blimey … ‘Surprise me they don’t drop off … Cut clean through these will.

MARJORIE:
Clouds all over.  Told you we shouldn’t have come out.

KATHLEEN:
Get nothing if you don’t try, girl … Cor blimey!

Years earlier, as  American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature, Eugene O’Neill (16 October 1888 – 27 November 1953) began to make waves in the theater with his plays, what critics called his “most interesting play” hit its stride with a meteoric rise.

The Emperor Jones” told the story of an African-American who was an ex-Pullman porter who arrives in the West Indies, and within two years of arriving in the West Indies, Brutus Jones makes himself emperor.  The play begins during a difficult time, after Brutus Jones has been in power for several years, and has amassed a large fortune thanks to the heavy taxes he imposed on the islanders he rule.  But times are not easy as rebellion is brewing in the capital.  A Cockney trader named Smithers is responsible for using blimey in the play.

SMITHERS:
Then you ain’t so foxy as I thought you was.  Where’s all your court?  The Generals and the Cabinet Ministers and all?

JONES:
Where dey mostly runs to minute I closes my eyes — drinkin’ rum and talkin’ big down in de town.  How come you don’t know dat?  Ain’t you sousin’ with ’em most every day?

SMITHERS:
That’s part of the day’s work.  I got ter — ain’t I — in my business?

JONES:
Yo’ business!

SMITHERS:
Gawd blimey, you was glad enough for me ter take you in on it when you landed here first.  You didn’t ‘ave no ‘igh and mighty airs in them days!

JONES:
Talk polite, white man!  Talk polite, you heah me!  I’m boss heah now, is you forgettin’?

SMITHERS:
No ‘arm meant, old top.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Eugene O’Neill was the father of Oona O’Neill (14 May 1925 – 27 September 1991), who was the fourth and last wife of English actor and filmmaker. Charlie Chaplin (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977).

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  During WWI, there was a soft cap with ear flaps that was known as the Gor blimey.  It was replaced in 1917 by a soft cap without flaps that looked more like military wear than the Gor blimey.   Many soldiers held on to their Gor blimey caps for winter weather anyway, due in large part to the ear flaps that helped keep their ears warm.

In Volume I of “Slang and its Analogues Past and Present: A Dictionary, Historical and Comparative, of the Heterodox Speech of All Classes of Society For More Than Three Hundred Years” by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 18 January 1916) published in 1890 (and of which only 750 copies were printed for subscribers only) this definition was given for blimey.

A corruption of ‘Blind me!’; an expression little enough understood by those who constantly have it in their mouths.

A year earlier in 1889, Albert Marie Victor Barrère (died 1896) and Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903) published, “A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Gypsies’ Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology.”  In Volume I, the definition for blimey is slightly different from that of Farmer’s dictionary.

Blimey (common), an apparently meaningless, abusive term.

Prior to this published entry, however, the only references to Blimey are those referring to a person’s last name such as John Blimey or Anna Blimey or some other Blimey.

It’s a fact that swearing was frowned upon during this era, and as such, substituting minced oaths was popular.  While Idiomation is unable to state definitively when blimey and cor blimey were first used, it’s reasonable to believe that they were both popular buzz phrases for the era in the 1880s, and continued to be used in the 20th century.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cold Turkey

Posted by Admin on December 20, 2013

When you quit something point blank instead of tapering off or cutting down gradually, you’ve gone cold turkey. Although some claim it relates to walking away from an addiction, the term applies to many other activities that are stopped immediately. In some cases, it also means to speak frankly, and in yet other cases, it has nothing to do with being frank or quitting a behavior.

In 2006, Brian Snowdon and Howard R. Vane wrote and published a book entitled, “An Encyclopedia of Macroeconimics.” On page 135, the following definition for cold turkey is given:

A rapid and permanent reduction in the rate of monetary growth aimed at reducing the rate of inflation.

The idea of cold turkey referring to economics isn’t new. When Sweder van Wijnbergen wrote his book “Should Price Reform Proceed Gradually Or In A Big Bang?” he included the idiom on page 26 where he wrote in part:

Thus cold turkey programs will unambiguously be more credible than gradual programs that actually cause increasing shortages in their initial phase: and even if gradual programs do not cause increasing shortages, cold turkey decontrol program will still be more credible.

In Mickey Spillane’s book “The Deep” published in 1961 the following exchange can be read:

“Easy, kid. You could have been part of a setup. The word goes out to stay clear of Bennett’s place during a certain time … or if you get clear to make a call to let somebody know … and then blooie, Bennett catches it and you’re clean. Almost.”

He didn’t like that last word.

“The cops figure like that and tie it in and you’ll be doing the turkey act downtown. Cold turkey. Think you could take it?”

“Deep … jeez! Look, you know I wouldn’t … hell, Bennett and me, we was friends. You know, friends!” He was perched on the very edge of the bed shaking like a scared bird.

Later on in the book, he author wrote:

I grinned nastily so Pedro could see it. “Nothing special. I just put our buddy in the path of law and order. He’s a junkie, so I dropped a few days’ poppilng [sic] in his pocket with the gimmicks and if he gets picked up he goes cold turkey downtown. In five minutes a cop’ll walk in here and off this laddie goes. Unless he talks, of course. In that case he can even keep what’s in his pocket.

In fact, in the book, by Vincent Joseph Monteleone entitled, “Criminal Slang: The Vernalucar of the Underground Lingo” published in 1945 and reprinted in 1949, he states that cold turkey means a number of things including:

1. to speak frankly;
2. to be arrested with the loot in one’s possession; and
3. to quit using drugs without tapering off or without drugs to relieve the withdrawal.

Going back to 1928 and the magazine “The Author & Journalist” the idiom is used on page 28 in an article by Alan Streeter entitled, “Putting ‘Cold Turkey‘ Into Writing.” Alan Streeter wrote:

… in getting stories by the “cold turkey” method. [The writer] must be able to ascertain the general standing of the merchant or the store about which the article is to be written.

Oddly enough, in a book by Theodore Roosevelt published in 1888, and again in 1904, and entitled “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail: An Account Of Life In The Cattle Country Of The Far West” he wrote of a gentleman known as Cold Turkey Bill in Chapter VI entitled, “Frontier Types.” In this chapter he wrote:

He was victorious over the first two or three eminent citizens whom he encountered, and then tackled a gentleman known as “Cold Turkey Bill.” Under ordinary circumstances, Cold Turkey, though an able-bodied man was no mater for The Pike; but the latter was still rather drunk, and moreover was wearied by his previous combats. So Cold Turkey got him down, lay on him, choked him by the throat with one hand, and began pounding his face with a triangular rock held in the other. To the onlookers the fate of the battle seemed decided; but Cold Turkey better appreciated the endurance of his adversary, and it soon appeared that he sympathized with the traditional hunter who, having caught a wildcat, earnestly besought a comrade to help him let it go.

No explanation is proffered in the book explaining how Cold Turkey Bill got his nickname. That being said, it was in August 1915 that the following was printed in the Oakland Tribune:

This letter talks cold turkey. It gets down to brass.

Even back in 1915, cold turkey meant to speak frankly without any gradual minimizing of words to get to the subject at hand. Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of cold turkey, and since it was used so eloquently in 1915, it’s reasonable to peg this idiom to the previous generation. In other words, it most likely was an expression that came out of the 1880s, and quite possibly from the expression talk turkey.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Eat Like A Horse

Posted by Admin on April 21, 2011

If someone says that you eat like a horse, it mean you are eating, or have eaten, a lot of food.  In some instances this is a compliment while in others it’s an insult.  It all depends on the situation and the people involved.  Interestingly enough, in French the expression is “manger comme un ogre” (translation: eat like an ogre) or “manger comme quatre” (translation: eat as if one was four).

One of the funniest play on words was in Neel Chowdhury’s article in Time Magazine published on May 29, 2008.  The title of the article was “Eat Like A Horse Rider.”

The Baltimore Sun ran an article on December 28, 1952 entitled, “Add One Elephant To The Holiday Toll.”   The newspaper extended its sympathies to the children of Rome whose favorite elephant, Remo, had died on Christmas Eve. And yet despite the fact that this was a terribly sad occasion, the editors saw that a lesson could be drawn from the unexpected death at the Rome zoo.  And with that, the article spoke to the heart of holiday feasts, stating this in part:

For those of us who have survived the first rounds of holiday feasting, with the New Year’s banquets still to go, there is a moral in Remo’s gourmandian orgy. A person may be as hungry as a bear and may eat like a horse but there are definite limits beyond that.

Thee Pittsburgh Press ran an advertisement espousing the benefits of The Reese Formula R-11 in its August 9, 1920 edition.  It stated that a Mr. B.L. Allen, assistant foreman of the N&W Railway at Portsmouth, Ohio, claiming to previously suffering from “nervous indigestion and rheumatism” had this to say about the product’s efficacy:

I saw the medicine in the window at Fischer & Streich Drug Store and I decided to get a bottle and try it as I have always tried everything I saw. I am glad to say after taking two-thirds of the bottle I can eat like a horse, sleep like a country boy and feel like a 16-year old boy.  If you wish to sue my name you are at liberty to do so.  I will always recommend The Reese Formula R-11 to my friends.

These sorts of health claims haven’t changed over the years, the only difference being the illnesses that certain products supposedly address or cure.  Over in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Mail newspaper ran an advertisement in their March 15, 1902 edition that made eerily similar health claims as the advertisement run in Pittsburgh in 1920.  This time it was about Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills.  In this instance, it  was a Mr. John Cook of Dunolly, Victoria, Australia who gave testimony:

About the middle of February last I was seized with a severe attack of Indigestion, and also pains across the chest, which caused me much agony, and upon making my case known I was advised to give your pills a trial.  I did so, bought one bottle from Mr. Kendall, the local chemist, and commenced their use, and before using on bottle I found they had made a great improvement so I continued their use, and had not finished the second bottle when I was sure they had cured me.  Another thing, before taking these pills I had no appetite, but now, as the saying is, I can eat like a horse.  I will recommend the pills wherever I go, as I am sure they will do to others as they have done to me.

Back on July 12, 1882 the St. Joseph Daily Gazette in St. Joseph, Missouri published an article on Tug Wilson, the English pugilist.  The upcoming match between Tug Wilson and John L. Sullivan that was set to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York the following week had sports enthusiasts buzzing with excitement.  It was reported that Sullivan had agreed to forfeit $1,000 — a princely sum at the time — he didn’t knock Tug out in four rounds and Tug stood to earn half the gate money if he succeeded in dodging the “sledgehammer blows of his redoubtable adversary beyond the prescribed time.”  Among other things, the newspaper article dealt with the boxer’s training regime.

He does not trouble his stomach with many soft vegetables but does in for beef, bread, mutton and eggs.  Dinner over, he rests until 2 o’clock, smokes a cigar, and then starts out and walks until 5 o’clock.  He has another trot around after supper.  His appearance has undergone a great change since he commenced training.  There is nothing “fluffy” about him now. He has hardened his muscles and reduced his weight most remarkably.  He can now skip about like a squirrel, eat like a horse, and move about like a champion pugilist.  His weight last Sunday was 174 pounds, and yesterday it was 157 pounds.  The fact of itself sufficiently indicates the severity of his training.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this expression however there appears to be a jump between the expression “work like a horse” and “eat like a horse.”  The former expression dates back to at least 1520 when horses replaced oxen and began to pull  carts, wagons, carriages, chariots and sleighs.  

As a side note, special yokes had to be designed for horses as the typical ox yoke applied so much pressure to the windpipe of a horse that it effectively cut off the horse’s supply of oxygen.  And surely if one was said to be working like a horse, it made sense that one would also be eating like a horse afterwards.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Miracles Leaning On Lamp Posts

Posted by Admin on March 30, 2011

Near the end of the movie, Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, there’s a heartfelt exchange between Elwood P. Dowd and Dr. Chumley that has a wonderful A-ha! moment right smack dab in the middle of it all.

ELWOOD: You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome, not only time and space – but any objections.

CHUMLEY: Flyspecks — flyspecks! I’ve been spending my life among flyspecks — while miracles have been leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax! Tell me, Mr. Dowd, will he do this for you?

ELWOOD: Oh, he’d be willing at any time — yes. But so far I ha-haven’t been able to think of any place I’d rather be. I – I always have a wonderful time — wherever I am — whomever I’m with. I’m having a fine time right here with you, Doctor.

Courant.com published an article by John Altavilla in their blog section on March 26, 2011 that spoke of Geno Auriemma and his disappointment over the small turnout at Gampel Pavillion for the Huskies’ second-round win over Purdue University.  It stated in part:

And if said it in his usual way, Philadelphia kid standing on the corner, leaning on the lamp post, joking around with his buddies.  Except he was in a press conference, where they are no posts, except blog posts.

On August 7, 1960 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Rosell Eliminates Law That Horses Be Tied” that spoke not only of changes to that law but to others as well.

A modern codification of all legislation passed here since 1890 has eliminated laws banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts and requiring riders to secure horses to hitching posts. The new codification of borough laws has wiped out outdated and conflicting and confusing language.

It would appear that leaning on lamp-posts was thought of as a lazy man’s pastime in the late 1880s that necessitated the passing of a law banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts.  But what could possibly spur City councillors to pass such a law?

In the late 19th century, tall bikes were an integral part of the gas lamp lighting system.  Employees would ride their tall bikes — some as tall as 7 feet in height — from lamp to lamp, lean against the lamp post, light the lamp, lightly push of from the lamp post and continue to the next lamp post.  This was necessary as gas lamp posts were usually 11 feet tall with 2 of those 11 feet in the ground which meant a 7 foot tall bike would put the rider at the correct height for lighting the lamp.  Once all the lamps on a rider’s route were lit, an assistant would help the rider dismount from the tall bike.

Since the lamp posts were gas-powered, it’s understandable that any city with such a lamp lighting system would want to send the message to its inhabitants — for safety’s sake — not to lean on lamp posts and to stand on their own two feet.  And one certainly didn’t want to get in the way of a gas lamp lighting system rider for fear of causing problems for the rider, the leaner or both!

If someone leaned on such a lamp post, it left the impression that they didn’t have anything better to do with their time than lean on lamp posts.

And so, if miracles are leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax, or at any other intersection anywhere in the world, it means miracles haven’t anything better to do than to wait for the world to see miracles where they happen to be … leaning on lamp posts.

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That’s A Sack Of Cold Chestnuts

Posted by Admin on December 1, 2010

One of two sayings Bea Arthur’s character, Dorothy, used often in the television series from “The Golden Girls” was “That’s a sack of cold chestnuts!”  What she meant was that what was supposed to be a hot-button topic was going to be a lot of work resulting in a the realization the topic was a non-issue that had already been discussed or repeated so many times that it was neither interesting nor amusing.

The 1816 English melodrama The Broken Sword — also known as The Torrent of the Valley — written by William Dimond was described as “a Melo-Drama in 2 Acts, adapted from the French” and “a grand melo-drama: interspersed with songs, choruses, and company.” One of the characters in the play is a boor, and at one point he is retelling a tale that makes mention of a cork tree.  The character named Pablo corrects the storyteller immediately by stating:

A chestnut. I have heard you tell the tale these 27 times.

With the addition of the word sack and the word cold to further emphasize that one did not want to revisit certain issues or discussion topics, the phrase “That’s a sack of cold chestnuts!” became popular in the Northeast and Midwest states during the 1880’s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Call Of The Wild

Posted by Admin on June 17, 2010

American author, Jack London (1876 – 1916) was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first Americans to make a lucrative career exclusively from writing.

Prospectors intermittently discovered gold in the Yukon region of Canada in the 1870s and 1880s. News of their finds attracted modest numbers of other prospectors hoping to find great deposits of the precious metal.  Jack London was among those prospectors. Although he didn’t strike gold, London did return from the Great White North with the “The Call Of The Wild” manuscript, published in 1903 and that based on his experiences while he was a prospector.  

The Saturday Evening Post who purchased the manuscript on January 26, 1903 insisted on having 5,000 words cut from the original and London complied with that request.

London calls the law of survival in the untamed wild northlands as “the law of club and fang.”  What’s more, the novel puts forth that heredity and environment are the major forces that shape human beings and inborn instincts influenced by economic, social, cultural and familial factors dictate how people react in any given situation.

The phrase “Call of the Wild” originates with Jack London.

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A Plug Nickel

Posted by Admin on March 1, 2010

A plug in coins is the hole in the middle of the coin that is filled with a cheaper metal.  

This phrase dates back to the 1880’s and used to refer to coins — not just nickels but any coin — that had been tampered with and damaged.   Removing the plug on any coin rendered them worthless as they were not considered to be legal tender due to tampering.

In time the phrase came to mean someone or something that was absolutely worthless.

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