Familiar Expression

Oct 04, 1996

RAY: There's an expression that we've all used in our lives which I want to know from whence it came: "I'm stumped."

TOM: That's appropriate too.

RAY: And we've used it on this show more than anyone has.

TOM: We certainly have. What is the derivation of the expression "I'm stumped?"


RAY: Brain cell regeneration!

TOM: Well, they're only coming back because of something that triggered it. The very next day it showed up on my son's exam as a bonus question and I had mentioned it to him the night before.

RAY: No kidding.

TOM: And he was the only kid in the room who got it right.

RAY: He was?

TOM: So I remember. But I can't remember what the question was. I'm stumped by this question.

RAY: That's exactly what it is! In its utter simplicity--what is the derivation of the phrase, "I'm stumped"? I thought it was pretty cute.

Back in the early days of the Republic, when we were pushing westward...

TOM: I remember.

RAY: ...there arose a need to make areas that were passable for horses and wagons, so people that settled there could get goods to market and whatever. These states were heavily forested and people, mostly the government, went through and cut down trees in order to make roads. By necessity they left the stumps because they were so difficult to move. In some areas, there were so many stumps, and because the roads got washed with rains and became muddy, it was possible to get into an area where you couldn't move at all. Between the ruts in the road and the stumps all around, your travel was impeded, and when that happened you were stumped.

TOM: Why weren't you rutted?

RAY: Stumped is better.

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