Mexican streak 

From "Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847" by Winston Groom:

"As the Mexican guns began to fire the Americans noticed a curious phenomenon. Owing most probably to a combination of poor Mexican gunpowder and the rarefied mountain atmosphere, the enemy cannonballs left a blue streak behind them, often allowing Doniphan's men to dodge the danger. It struck the men as being so remarkable that afterward they began using the phrase 'blue streak' to describe anything that had great speed or intensity, thus introducing a new expression into the common lexicon."

I'd never heard this or any other explanation of blue streak before, though I've heard the term all my life. ("Mrs. Whatnot talks a blue streak ... The virus spread like a blue streak.") I hope this one is true. Random House offers no explanation of origin, but says blue streak is an Americanism that came into use in the 1820s, a couple of decades before the Mexican War. But I like the image of Uncle Sam's troops ducking enemy shells. Then charging like a blue streak before the cannoneers can reload.

Maybe even a little larmed:

"While searching the rental house, an officer 'opened the garage and was taken back by the strong chemical odor coming from the garage,' reports said."

Michael Klossner writes, "In addition to being taken back he was probably ghast."

An Arkansas Times reference to "a sneak preview at the next season of Downton Abbey" brought an email scolding: "You can sneak a look 'at', but you get a preview 'of'."

The misuse of prepositions has been on Stanley Johnson's mind too, particularly misuse by advertisers. He heard an actor/dentist on TV explain how dentures are "different to" real teeth, when "different from" would be correct. "And why does anyone countenance such clumsiness as 'different than'? One thing is not different than another. It is different from that other. If no one else will state it as a rule, I will."

Stand your ground, Mr. Johnson. We need more like you.



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