Monday, April 23, 2012

U - Upset the applecart, Upper crust and Upper Hand

Today's idioms are brought to you by the letter "U."  

1.  Don’t tell Joe about the ski trip or he’ll upset the applecart.

Meaning: to soil or interfere with a plan; to obstruct progress; to mess everything up by surprise or accident.

Origin: Comes from ancient Roman times, although the Romans just said “cart.” “Apple” was added in the late 1800s because it helped create a metaphor for ruining something that was carefully arranged, such as a large pile of apples on a cart. Along comes some clumsy oaf, he knocks over the cart and spills all the apples. The farmer’s plan to sell his apples is spoiled.

2.  The bad boy fell hopelessly in love with a girl from the upper crust.

Meaning: high society; social or financial elite; important people.

Origin: Used widely since the mid-1800s. The upper crust of a loaf of bread was considered the best, tastiest part, so “Upper Crust” came to mean the best class of people, the most elite in society, those with the highest intellectual, social, or economic status.

3.  Janel has the upper hand in her relationship.

Meaning: is in the dominant position. 

Origin: There are three theories of how this phrase came about. One is related to the game schoolyard kids play with a baseball bat before picking sides, putting their hands on top of each other until one of their hands is at the top of the bat, giving them the opportunity to choose first who will be on their team.

The next is the idea that the person whose hand is on top when a couple holds hands literally takes the upper hand, and is the dominant one in the relationship.

The third theory is related to upper crust, referring not to hands, but societal, social or economic status. Gary Martin from found an early example from: The English And Scottish Popular Ballads, collected by Francis Child and published by him in 1882. The ballad in question is Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, which Child believed to have originated around 1600:

"A grave, a grave," Lord Barnard cryd,

"To put these lovers in;

But lay my lady on the upper hand,

For she came of the better kin."

And can I just say Woo-Hoo!  I just finished writing my Z post tonight.  I am done!


  1. Congrats on finishing! I'm still going day by day...

  2. Congratulations on being done. I am jealous!

    Happy A to Z-ing!

  3. Wow you're finished with all your posts!! Rock on!

  4. yay for you! very curious to see the last letters!

  5. I like all these expressions. Thanks for reminding me of how they originated.

  6. Good for you- job well done. I admire your spirit and everyone who was enterprising enough to join the A-Z challenge. Maybe next year I'll throw in with all of your overachievers. LOL

  7. Loved the "upper crust". When doing research on Scottish history, I discovered that the poor people ate those round balls of bread in the shape of cannonballs made of whole wheat, nice, fresh grainy bread that we stand in line for today, while the rich people ate bread made of white flour. So class indicators were measured by bread as well as land and title. Fascinating! And I admire your perseverance in prewriting for A-Z.

  8. I still like the crusts best on a loaf of bread. Good idioms! And congrats for writing the Z post. I've figured out the words but haven't written all of the posts yet. But I AM almost done (in the real world) with the teaching semester-yay!

  9. Sad to say that I am not, nor have I ever been, one of these things. :oP

  10. I've heard upper crust used in terms of 'upper crust of society' before. Thinking about it in terms of a loaf of bread makes a rather childishly funny image in my mind.

  11. The baseball bat theory makes sense to me.
    And glad you are all set for the next week!

  12. Mmm, the upper crust of bread really is the best part.

  13. I recently saw something on television about the 'upper hand' and how when powerful men get together, especially in front of cameras, they always try to have the upper hand while shaking hands or refuse to go in a doorway first. All trying to show stature and dominance.
    We are a strange race, humans.

  14. I'm liking this applecart business. I'm totally using that someday!

  15. I always about that upper crust one - but I still don't get it - usually nobody likes bread crust! grin