What’s the deal with all the people standing on street corners holding “24 Fitness” signs? I don’t know how things are in your hometown but, in the not-to-distant past, the corners of every major intersection of Seattle were populated by people holding cardboard signs signs readings “STUCK IN SEATTLE AND AS IMPROBABLE AS IT SOUNDS I ONLY NEED $1.47 MORE TO BUY A BUS TICKET!!” Apparently all those folks managed to get back to Gerbil Junction, Iowa, though, because many of them are now gone, replace by crowds of people dancing around and waving at cars while wearing both a Walkman and a Sandwich Board reading “CIRCUIT CITY NEXT RIGHT ->” Where did all these people come from? Did someone figure out a loophole in signage laws or something, and now everyone is rushing to exploit it?
Actually, “portable signs” are legal not because of a loophole in the law, but because of the law itself — it’s just that the law wasn’t settled until a a few years ago. Dennis Ballen, the owner of a store called Blazing Bagels in Redmond (a Seattle suburb and home to Microsoft) had been using these “portable signs” for years, while the city had long been trying to ban them. But Redmond was selective in its sign laws, allowing for political and real estate signs while trying to 86 the rest. So Ballen joined forces with the The Institute for Justice and took the city to court.
In January of 2004, the Seattle federal court ruled in favor of Ballen, stating that Redmond’s law “creates content-based exceptions for certain commercial speech that has no material relationship to the safety and aesthetic goals” and declaring it unconstitutional [pdf of ruling]. The finding was upheld later that same year.
With their legality established, guys wearing “Mattress Depot” signs and waving madly at passing cars have begun to appear all over our state. And maybe your state, too. If so, you have us to thank.
What’s the origin of the phrase “no bones about it?” Is it related to the phrase “to pick a bone?”: A couple of Internet sites take a stab at deducing the history of the phrase “make no bones about it,” and they all seem to be in agreement on two points: (a) the term is so ancient that determining its etymology is well nigh impossible, but (b) the best guess is that it comes from Ye Olde Olden Dayes, when soups would occasionally contain tiny bones and the more casual connoisseur would either swallow them down or set them aside without making a fuss. The other hypothesis often mentioned is that the phrase might allude to gambling, where some players make a big deal out of “throwing the bones” while others just quietly go about their business of losing money. (Curiously, every site I encountered while researching his phrase [this one, this one, and this one] all list the same theories in the same order, which means that they are probably all copying one another — just as I am doing now.)
As for “pick a bone” (and the related phrase, “bone of contention”), the consensus is that this too comes from meal bones, and the quarrel that breaks out amongst dogs when one is thrown to them.
From the comments: “I’d like to know what the origin of using ’86’ as a verb is.” According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used by restaurant workers as a code phrase meaning “we’re out of something,” and was chosen because it rhymed with the word “nix.” A full account of the phrase is available here.