A recent holiday weekend brought several young families to the campground. Folks of all ages joined us around the campfire. After brief introductions were made, a young child asked an RVer this question: “Can I see ‘your neck of the woods’?” The RVer had mentioned this phrase during the conversation. The little boy thought it meant a tattoo! A lively conversation followed—all about camping idioms or folk-isms—their meanings and origins.
The child didn’t correctly understand the idiom, “your neck of the woods.” We explained that the phrase has nothing to do with the woods surrounding our campground or the important body part that holds your head to your shoulders. Instead, the folk-ism or idiom refers to any place a person calls home. It might be a region, a state, or a local neighborhood. “Your neck of the woods” is really any place a person feels comfortable or at home.
So many camping idioms, so little time
What followed was a fun (and funny) brainstorming session. Folks around the fire tried to name as many idioms about camping, RVing, and/or nature as possible. We worked against the clock, er, fire. We wanted to tally results before the campfire went out.
I was intrigued by the conversation, so I did a little digging and found the most likely origins of just a few of the idioms on our list. I thought you might like to know them, too.
My neck of the woods
Historians think that the word “neck” is derived from several Native American dialects, where “niaick” meant “corner or point.” So “my neck of the woods” means my point or corner of the forest—the area where I live.
Add fuel to the fire
This idiom means to make a bad situation even worse. A fire is often a bad circumstance. If you add fuel (an accelerant) to the fire, you’ll prolong the blaze or make it worse.
“Adding fuel to the fire” is thought to have originated in the days of the ancient Romans. In fact, the idiom has been found in some of their earliest historical writings (27 B.C.).
Note: Campers generally use these words in literal terms: Put another log on the campfire!
Today, this idiom refers to the front passenger seat in a vehicle. The size, make, or model of the vehicle doesn’t matter. To ride shotgun is a favorite spot for many children and often a heated discussion erupts over who gets to sit there.
The origin of “riding shotgun” comes from the Wild West days in America. Often two men rode atop the stagecoaches that were prevalent at the time. One man served as the driver and directed the horses to the coach’s intended destination. The other man sat next to the driver, with shotgun at the ready. He served as a lookout, ready to defend the stagecoach from any approaching threat.
“Riding shotgun” originally meant supplying aid or offering help to others, but we all know that the idiom has changed since the arrival of the automobile.
Here are some of the other camping idioms the campfire folks listed:
- In the same boat
- A little birdie told me
- Night owl
- Put a bug in his ear
- Bigger fish to fry
- Ants in your pants
- Barking up the wrong tree
- Making a mountain out of a molehill
- Shooting the breeze
It might be fun to ask your children/grandchildren if they know the meanings of these idioms.
Can you add to our list? Remember, the idioms should somehow relate to camping or the great outdoors.
Last week’s Around the Campfire: