July 12, 2013

Petered Out

I am fascinated with words and phrases and how they came to be.

Since July 5, I have been on a cross-country road trip. On our stop to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, I found out how the term "petered out" came to be.

Petered Out = To End Weakly / To Become Exhausted / To Give Out

Back in the day, Native Americans used the caves to mine saltpeter. This was turned into gunpowder. Unfortunately, Americans quickly figured out that they could ship it in cheaper than they could make their own, so the saltpeter mines just slowly ceased to exist... or they petered out.

Here is a picture from Mammoth Cave of an old saltpeter mine.

Is there a word or phrase you'd love to know the origin of?


Annette Gendler said...

I remember hearing the same thing about the expression "petered out" when I visited Mammoth Cave last year. Looking up the origin of "petered out," there seems to be more than one explanation, but the tie to saltpeter mining seems to stand up most to scrutiny, and I love it when an idiom has such a practical origin!

Elise Fallson said...

So that's where it came from. I like learning where certain words and phrases came from too. Enjoy the rest of your trip. Be safe and can't wait to see where you're headed next!

Jo Michaels said...

Nah, when I have a question, I just Google. I've come across some interesting facts via television series though. Who knew watching TV could be educational?

Did you know there's a vein that goes from your ring finger on your left hand straight to your heart? That's why the wedding ring is placed there. It's literally the finger of love. :)