More Bang for Your Buck

The phrase means “more value for your money,” and it has a more political origin than you might expect.

It all starts in the 1950’s with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, Charles Erwin Wilson. He used the word “bang” quite literally as a reference to nuclear weapons because the new New Look security policy called for greater reliance on nuclear weapons.  In this context, Wilson used the phrase as “more bombs for your money”. The U.S. Military wanted to use more weaponry power and the phrase “bigger bang for your buck” could hardly be a better summation.


Charles E. Wilson and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Arthur W. Radford observing a controlled explosion.

Thanks to the phrase’s catchy alliteration, it stuck around. But it did lose its political connotation as time passed on, moving instead toward the meaning that we know and love today.

The first transcribed account of “bang for the buck” appeared in New Language of Politics in 1968, where the author William Safire recounts Wilson’s invention of the phrase.

The earlier equivalent of “more bang for your buck” was Pepsi’s 1950 slogan “more bounce to the ounce”.




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That’s All She Wrote


“That’s all she wrote” is an American phrase used to say that there is nothing else to say about a subject.

And where did it come from? Well, some say it’s the product of some unfortunate soldier in WWII. The tale goes like this: A soldier eagerly opens a letter from his sweetheart. He starts reading to his buddies: “Dear John.” They tell him to go on. “That’s it; that’s all she wrote.” The poor serviceman knows he just got dumped.

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It’s an entertaining tale, and plausible enough. The “Dear John” phrase started being used around WWII, and a number of newspapers reference the letters. Some people credit Franklin Roosevelt with originating the phrase, though that’s probably only because he wrote a lot of letters to people named John.

Concrete written records of “that’s all she wrote” start appearing in 1942; one of the first references from the St. Petersburg Times said: “The things that brought tears to their eyes included…the downcast GI about whom another told them ‘He just got a Dear John letter.’”

The source might also have come from a song by the popular singers Aubry Gass and Tex Ritter which had the line “And that’s all she wrote, Dear John”. And the musician Ernest Tubb sang the country song “That’s All She Wrote” with the lyrics: “I got a letter from my mama, just a line or two / She said listen daddy your good girl’s leavin’ you / That’s all she wrote – didn’t write no more / She’d left the gloom a hanging round my front door.”

It’s perhaps not the most cheerful of phrase origins; but the original WWII tale made the phrase stick around to this day.


As Easy As Pie

Nothing is as American as apple pie, or so they say. And, as some have it, some things are “easy as pie”.

Pie isn’t a particularly easy endeavor, however, as anyone who has made it should know. So how did the phrase “easy as pie” come to be?

Plenty of English phrases have the structure “as blank as blank”, so the phrase itself is not that unusual.

The phrase likely comes from 19th century America. One simple explanation suggests that the idiom applies not to the making of pie, but the eating of it, which is in fact a pretty simple task.

Ready for some pie? From a vintage Thanksgiving postcard.

Ready for some pie?
From a vintage Thanksgiving postcard.

Mark Twain liked to compare many things to pie. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published 1884, he wrote “You’re always as polite as pie to them.” This was not the only comparison he made to pie, either. For instance, he also wrote that someone “was just old pie to him, so to speak.”

The first known printed use of “easy” pie came in 1887, from a newspaper called Newport Mercury that said, “You see veuever I goes I takes away mit me a silverspoon or a knife or somethings, an’ I gets two or three dollars for them. It’s easy as pie. Vy don’t you try it?”

So while the direct reason for the phrase is not known, it seems simple enough as a naturally forming simile.

Another source suggests that today’s usage comes from an Indigenous Australian expression “pie at” or “pie on” which has a positive connotation. However, the claims suggest that the phrase originated in the 1920s, definitely after the first printed appearance.

“Easy as pie” came effortlessly into the English language, almost as effortlessly as pie.

It’s the Bee’s Knees!

It’s hard to think back to the flappers of the 1920s without evoking the phrase “bee’s knees”. The phrase implies something of the highest quality, but what is it about the nook of a bee’s leg that suggests the epitome of excellence?


One possible origin comes from the 1920s dancer Bee Jackson. She made the Charleston popular and became world famous for it. It’s possible that “bee’s knees” comes from Jackson’s dancing; however, the phrase precedes her fame.

Starting in the late 18th century, the expression was simple nonsense, meaning something useless or meaningless. As this source cites, one New Zealand newspaper in 1906 listed the cargo of the SS Zealandia as ‘a quantity of post holes, 3 bags of treacle and 7 cases of bee’s knees.’ And that’s only one of many similar uses of the phrase.

Flappers in the 1920s, ever the fashionable crowd, loved to make nonsense phrases out of animal-related terms. The “cat’s pyjamas,” the “snake’s hips,” the “flea’s eyebrows,” the “bee’s knees” – all of these meant something that was at the height of cool. Designated as “flapper talk,” not much of the lingo stuck around, but at least “bee’s knees” is here to stay.

Detail of a vintage sheet music cover.

Detail of a vintage sheet music cover.

Flapper lingo is all-around a creative and fun way to talk. Check out this list and see if you can bring back some of these words & phrases — and tell us your favorites!

Don’t Spill the Beans…

Don’t “spill the beans”, as the saying goes, which means to accidentally or maliciously reveal a secret.

But where did the phrase come from?

The legend behind the phrase suggests that the saying comes from a Greek origin. When a decision was needed, a vote was held with dry beans dropped into a jar. White beans meant yes and black beans meant no. But if the counter dropped the jar and a black bean was seen, the vote was ruined.

No research has suggested, however, that this is actually where the phrase came from, since it only started to appear in the early 20th century in the U.S.

“Spilled the beans” showed up at first in newspaper sports columns where editors could have some fun with their titles. One of the first examples says “KINGSTELLE SPILLED THE BEANS”. This doesn’t, in fact, mean that someone revealed an especially juicy secret, but instead refers to a horse race. The horse Kingstelle did better in the race than people expected. Here “spill” uses the meaning “upset” or “shake up”, meaning Kingstelle shook up people’s expectations.P1010049

In other early uses, “spill the beans” meant making a mistake that lead to defeat.

And in an example closer to our modern interpretation, a 1908 newspaper edition wrote, “Tawney, when he came to congress, wasn’t welcomed within the big tent. He had to wait around on the outside…He just walked off the reservation, taking enough insurgent Republicans with him to spill the beans for the big five.”

But where does the “beans” part of “spill the beans” come from? No one seems to know. People say many varieties on the word “spill” with the same meaning, and beans just happened to get the reputation.