Question: Where and when did the phrase "from the git-go" originate?

Answer: "From the git-go," (or "get-go," as it's slightly more commonly spelled), meaning "from the very beginning," appears to have originated in the vernacular of American Black English. The earliest record of the phrase is from 1966, when it appeared in a story by Toni Cade Bambera, a writer, civil rights activist, and teacher, whose fiction is set in both the rural South and the urban North. How long the phrase may have been used in speech before 1966 is impossible to say. A much less common variant is "from the get," which was first recorded in 1971.

"From the get-go" is interchangeable with, and perhaps derived from, the older phrase "from the word go." Only in the past 10 years or so has "get-go" caught on widely with the general population. Its popularity presumably owes much to its catchy, alliterative quality. By the late 1980s "from the get-go" was popular in sports journalism; in the '90s it has come to be widely used and can be found in the edited prose of some of our most respected periodicals, although it retains an informal, conversational quality.

Question: A newspaper columnist during the recent campaign described a candidate as a "shoo-in." Please explain the origin of this curious word.

Answer: The use of the noun "shoo-in" to mean "a certain and easy winner" is fairly recent. Our first evidence of this use comes from a line in a San Francisco newspaper, printed January 30, 1939, which read: "Bear cagers appear shoo-in for southern division title."

The word "shoo" started its life in English as an interjection. It was, and still is, used as an exclamation to frighten or drive away animals (such as barnyard hens) or other pests or intruders. Its first documented appearance in writing is from the 15th century, but it was probably used in spoken language for some time before getting written down.

Around 1620 "shoo" began to be used as a transitive verb, as in "He shooed the pigeons away from the bench." Later, the verb developed an intransitive use reflecting the result of "shooing," as in "When she hollers at the cat it shoos at once." Then around 1900 the verb began to be used figuratively in the field of horse racing. If a racehorse was allowed to win easily, it was said to have been "shooed in."

A few years later, those devoted to racing jargon began to use "shoo-in" as a noun. At first it was used to mean "a predetermined or fixed race," and from that use it was extended to mean "a horse that is a certain winner." From that point, it was only a matter of time before "shoo-in" passed into the general vocabulary to mean anyone or anything that is a sure winner.

Question: I've always wondered why people say "That really gets my goat" when something makes them angry or irritated. What do goats have to do with it anyway?

Answer: The phrase "get one's goat" originated in American slang in the early 20th century. Exactly how it came to be isn't known. Some theorists have suggested a connection to an older French phrase, "prendre la chevre," which translates literally as "to take the goat." The difficulty with this explanation is that the French phrase is actually used to mean "to take offense," and it's not at all clear how this French idiom might have come to be translated and adopted with an altered meaning by the purveyors of American slang.

Another theory ties "get one's goat" to the practice of placing a goat in a stable to exert a calming influence on high-strung racehorses. The idea is that unscrupulous gamblers would make off with the goat before a big race, "getting the goat" of the horse's owner and causing the suddenly companionless racer to run poorly. Unfortunately, this appealing explanation is not supported by hard evidence, and it's probably too clever to be true. In fact, no connection at all to the world of horses is suggested by the earliest examples of "get one's goat," which include this passage from "Pitching in a Pinch" (1912), a memoir by the great baseball player Christy Mathewson: "Lobert . . . stopped at third with a mocking smile on his face which would have gotten the late Job's goat."