Kiss Anyone, Just Not the Gunner’s Daughter

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“A kiss is just a pleasant reminder that two heads are better than one.” – Unknown

Kissing is a very ancient and widely spread means of greeting and showing affection. Kissing conjures up sweet images of romantic embraces or familial love.

One imagines kissing a loved one, a child, a family member. Yet apparently, according to these often forgotten, helpful phrases, kissing a book, some dust, or even the foot of a small woodland creature can have a much deeper meaning.

For example, a ‘kiss-behind-the-garden-gate’ is a country name for a pansy.

If you ‘kiss the place to make it well,’ you are referring to the old custom of sucking the poison out of a wound.

If you are ‘kissing the dust,’ you are completely overwhelmed or humiliated.

While ‘kissing hands’ seems fairly straight forward, it harkens back to the tradition of kissing the hand of a sovereign or a saint’s statue. If the statue was placed too high to kiss directly, people would kiss their own hands and wave it in towards the saint.

On a less romantic note, ‘kissing the gunner’s daughter’ meant being flogged aboard a ship. Soldiers who were to be flogged were tied to the cannon’s breech. While there is perhaps less flogging going on these days, the phrase can still refer to a stiff punishment.

And finally, if you ‘kiss a hare’s foot’ then you are late. You have missed your appointment and the hare hopped by, leaving its footprint for you to see.

While one should perhaps steer away from getting flogged, these other colloquialisms might just come in handy.

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17 thoughts on “Kiss Anyone, Just Not the Gunner’s Daughter”

  1. The word is “straightforward,” not “strait forward.”

    I find it very strange that so many typos come into my e-mail inbox via your mailings. I’m not talking about the minor differences between British English and American English — I’m talking about what seems to be careless errors. Please use more diligence when proofreading your mailings because it’s rather annoying that these errors slip through a webpage that claims to be an expert source on the English language.

  2. More and more I’m hearing variation of the word “fun” used as in “that was so fun” and “it was funner than I thought” and “that was the funnest thing.” Your thoughts, please.

  3. “Fun” is supposed to used in limited ways. As far as I know, you’re not supposed to say, “That was so fun,” but “That was so much fun.” You can say, “That was fun,” but “fun” doesn’t have comparative or superlative forms. You would have to say, “That was more fun than the other thing,” or “That was the most fun I’ve ever had.”

    Children often make these kinds of errors with the word “fun,” but I think adults use -er or -est as suffixes to “fun” are probably trying to be humorous.

  4. I was just going to comment on the “strait forward” glitch, but Sylvia beat me to the punch. “Straightforward” it is. This is the kind of thing that a spellchecker won’t detect, because “strait” and “forward” are perfectly legitimate words, only that here they are out of context.

    Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate
    Main Entry:1straight.for.ward

    1 a : free from evasiveness or obscurity : EXACT, CANDID *a straightforward account* b : CLEAR-CUT, PRECISE
    2 : proceeding in a straight course or manner : DIRECT, UNDEVIATING
    –straight.for.ward.ly adverb
    –straight.for.ward.ness noun


    straight·for·ward [stràyt fáwrwərd]
    1. frank: truthful and to the point, rather than evasive
    2. easy: not complicated, difficult, or hard to understand
    3. straight or direct: following a straight or direct path

    in straightforward way: in a straightforward way or direction

    -straight·for·ward·ly, adverb
    -straight·for·ward·ness, noun
    Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

  5. On “fun”, again Sylvia is so right. Whereas you can say “funnier” (as in “more funny than”), you should frown on the use of “funner”, which I would term “colloquial” or “web-a-lese”.

  6. And last but not least, thanks Kate for sharing that bit of historical trivia, I had never before heard the expression of “kissing the gunner’s daughter” (I will try to use it an impress any Britons that may cross my path…)

  7. Funnily, in the two cultures that I have contact with these days, kissing isn’t at all like the ritual implied in this post.
    First, I work amongst Gulf Arabs. The most visible form of kissing in this culture is between two men. There are basically two kinds of male-to-male kissing. In one variety, between 2 and 5 kisses are planted on each other’s cheeks; in the other, the two men face each other, their foreheads and noses touch and their lips pucker up but remain several cms apart.
    Second, I spend a couple of months of the year relaxing in my wife’s country — Thailand. Kissing doesn’t really figure in Thai culture at all. Their well-known greeting, called the “wai” (pronounced “why”), involves joined palms and no physical touching. Most of the kissing in Thailand is between the indigenous women and foreign men — and the same goes for man-woman hand-holding.

  8. Even wordsmiths and grammarians make mistakes.

    I think this is a wonderful forum for pointing out errors in writing because all of us readers and writers can benefit from being made aware of them.

    Criticism, however, can be doled out firmly yet kindly. A little diplomacy goes a long way.

  9. I enjoyed learning about expressions related to “kiss” and “kissing” and plan on keeping an eye out for hares next time I’m late.

  10. I found something else to question in the sentence that contains “straitforward.” The writer refers to a phrase that “harkens back to the tradition of kissing the hand of a sovereign or a saint’s statue.” The usage “harken back” has become fairly common, but I believe the original idiom is “hark back.”

  11. @Don
    Here’s my take on “funner”:

    Quite right. Writers on language should produce perfect copy. Alas, no matter how conscientiously I proofread my articles, typos occasionally slip past me. I always appreciate those kindly readers who alert me to such embarrassing slips early on the day of publication, via email.

  12. @Ellen,
    Thank you for putting it gracefully…. Maeve’s writing flows with generosity and respect, and she deserves no less than that when her writing (silly typos) is criticized. Publish and be abominated. Scary.

  13. By definition, proofreading used to mean having another set of eyes look upon your words. The Internet has obviated this function, much to my frequent chagrin. The result is that many things go by the boards that would be detected with lengthy and objective perusal. We all make mistakes. God help us when we are afraid to make mistakes!

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