Prompted by President Trump’s intemperate rhetoric, the word fanatic kept coming to mind, so I decided to look up the word’s origin. “Fanatic comes from the Latin word for temple, fanum, and meant mad as if inspired by a god,” or so I read in the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, which I’ve quoted here before. Perhaps the most scathing definition of fanatic, however, is Winston Churchill’s: “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

The dictionary’s explanation of cold shoulder is a bit of a surprise: “When knighthood was in flower, a wandering knight would be received at any castle with a sumptuous hot meal. However, the common traveler would do well to be offered a plate of cold meat. Since mutton was a common food of the times in England, he would be likely to get the cold shoulder. Today when we turn the cold shoulder to anyone, we treat him with disdain bordering on contempt.”

Another surprising phrase is the toast chin-chin. It comes from Italy, where it is spelled cin-cin and means something like to your health. I heard the expression in Italy and France while traveling as a college student and started using it instead of cheers. Recently in both Point Reyes Station and Sausalito, however, I used chin-chin with a friend who had lived in Japan and with an acquaintance from there, and it got each woman laughing. Turns out that in Japanese, chin-chin means penis.

I doublechecked online and read this account: “One of our Japanese engineers had once told us a story about … a Japanese business man [who] goes to a dinner event. During the course of the dinner, an Italian raises his glass and toasts ‘Chin-chin!’ to the Japanese man. At first, the Japanese looks stunned. He looks at the Italian, and apparently detecting that the Italian meant no harm, he raises his glass and sips his drink sharing in the toast. He smiles broadly.

“Later in the evening, someone who noticed his facial expressions during the toast, goes to the Japanese man and asks him about his reaction. He smiles and explains: ‘I had not heard this particular toast before. In Japanese, the word chin means penis. So when he said ‘chin-chin‘ to me, I thought at first he was insulting me. Then I thought about it, and decided if this man wants to toast my penis, who am I to argue? So I accepted the toast gladly.'”

 — From a 1933 New Yorker magazine

The Morris Dictionary gives two alternative explanations for the origin of the phrase bring home the bacon. One is that the winner of greased-pig contests at county fairs often got to bring the porker home. The other, which I prefer, goes back to 1111 A.D. in the town of Dunmow in England: “A noblewoman, wishing to encourage marital happiness, decreed that ‘any person from any part of England going to Dunmow and humbly kneeling on two stones at the church door may claim a gammon [side] of bacon, if he can swear that for twelve months and a day he has never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried.'”

However, judging by these standards, such happiness was rare. “Let cynics make what they will of the record,” Morris Dictionary commented, “in a period of five centuries (1244-1772), there were only eight claimants of the prize.”

Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy of the dictionary when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago, and I remain indebted to him.