SIR: Ever since I can remember, the old saying, "Feed a cold and starve a fever," has puzzled me. I have wondered whether there is any evidence that, way back yonder, it started out as "Feed a cold and stave a fever." That would make some sense. - Henry M.
ANSWER: None that I know of, sir, and the expression really doesn't make much sense. Bergen Evans, in "Comfortable Words," noted that we don't even know whether we're being advised both to feed a cold and starve a fever, or to feed a cold in order to starve a fever. At any rate, he said, doctors agree it's all nonsense. As for starving a fever, he wrote, it's really necessary to eat and drink at least the normal amount in order to replace the loss of water and repair the breakdown of body tissues caused by the fever. It appears that you'll have to continue to be puzzled, along with the rest of us.SIR: A British friend writes: "I know what your expression, `The buck stops here,' means, but where did it come from?" I don't know. Do you? - A. Friend.
ANSWER: Off hand, I don't have a source to quote, but I'm confident of this: In the early days of poker playing in this county, an object called a buck was moved around the table and left beside a player as a reminder that he had the next deal. If for some reason he didn't want to deal, he would move the object on to the next player; hence the expression "passing the buck."
In time, of course, buck-passing came to mean evading a responsibility. So it simply stands to reason that, when you can't or don't want to get out of some job, you say that the buck stops here. This has a fine ring to it, doesn't it?
SEARCHING QUESTION of the week, asked by Carl S.: "A television sportscaster speaking of a team said it `is anxious to come in here and win a victory.' Is it possible to win a defeat? Or to lose a victory?"
WISE COMMENT of the week, relayed by Tom W. from an essay by E.B. White: "We knew a countryman once who spoke with wonderful vigor and charm, but ungrammatically. In him the absence of grammar made little difference, because his speech was full of juice. But when a dullard speaks in a slovenly way, his speech suffers not merely from dullness but from ignorance, and his whole life, in a sense, suffers - though he may not feel pain."
Send questions, comments, and good and bad examples to Lydel Sims, Watch Your Language, P.O. Box 161280, Memphis, TN 38186. If you quote a book, please give author, title and page number. Sorry, but questions can be answered only through this column.