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21Background Stories of Phrases We All Know And Say

We all say these phrases and we know what they mean, but how did it come down to this phrase? Why do we say things like rub the wrong way, and to butter someone up? Well, here are some phrases you know and how it happened.

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  • 1

    Bite the bullet

    Cheezburger Image 9197022720
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to accept something difficult 

    Origin: In times before anesthesia, soldiers were told by surgeons to bite down on a bullet to help with pain during amputations.


  • 2

    Caught red handed

    Cheezburger Image 9197022976
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to be caught in the act of doing something wrong 

    History: In an old law, if a person was accused of butchering another man's animal, they had to be caught with the blood of that animal still on their hands.



  • 3

    Butter someone up

    Cheezburger Image 9197023488
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: Flatter someone 

    History: Ancient Indian custom of throwing butter at statues of Gods to seek favor


  • 4

    Jaywalker

    Cheezburger Image 9197023744
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: Crossing the street recklessly 

    History: Jay birds that travel out of forests and into cities often become confused and walk about erratically in streets



  • 5

    Kick the bucket

    Cheezburger Image 9197024000
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to die 

    History: A bucket was placed under a cow at the slaughterhouse before it was killed, and sometimes it would knock it over in its death throes



  • 6

    Cat got your tongue?

    Cheezburger Image 9197024256
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: Said when someone doesn't know what to say 

    History: IN medieval times, liars and blasphemes would ahve their tongues ripped out and fed to cats


  • 7

    Spill the beans

    Cheezburger Image 9197024512
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: Reveal a secret 

    History: In ancient Greek organizations, they would vote n members of certain organizations by dropping beans in cans. White bean for approval. Black if not. Sometimes clumsy voters would knock the cans over, spoiling the secret of the voting method.



  • 8

    No spring chicken

    Cheezburger Image 9197024768
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: someone past their prime 

    History: New England chicken farmers sold their chickens in spring when they were in their prime. If a chicken wasn't sold then and tried to sold later, it was considered "no spring chicken."


  • 9

    Rub the wrong way

    Cheezburger Image 9197025024
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: To irritate someone 

    History: Referring to colonial woodworkers who would dry-rub the oak against the grain



  • 10

    Blood is thicker than water

    Cheezburger Image 9197025280
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: Family above all else 

    History: Ancient Middle Eastern cultures practices blood rituals that were actually more powerful than bonds between family. It also refers to the blood shed by brothers in arms who endured battle. 


  • 11

    Sleep tight

    Cheezburger Image 9197025536
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: sleep well 

    History: In Shakespearean times, mattresses were connected to the frames with rope and to make the bed firmer, one had to tighten the rope.


  • 12

    Go the whole 9 yards

    Cheezburger Image 9197025792
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to try your best 

    History: WWII fighter pilots had 9 yards of ammo, so if they used it all in a battle, they went "the whole 9 yards."


  • 13

    Pleased as punch

    Cheezburger Image 9197026048
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to be very happy 

    History: A 17th century puppet show for children called Punch and Jay featured a puppet named Punch who would always kill people, then feel very happy with himself afterwards


  • 14

    Go cold turkey

    Cheezburger Image 9197026304
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to quit abruptly 

    History: Refers to drug addicts having pale skin with goosebumps during withdrawals, like the skin of a turkey



  • 15

    Saved by the bell

    Cheezburger Image 9197026560
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: to be rescued from an unwanted situation 

    Origin: Back in the day, they would accidentally bury "dead" people so often, they connected a bell with a string from the coffin leading to the surface so a buried victim could alert gravediggers of the mistake



  • 16

    More than you can shake a stick at

    Cheezburger Image 9197026816
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: have more of something than you need 

    History: Farmers herded sheep by waving sticks. When they had more sheep than they could control, the phrase was born


  • 17

    Break the ice

    Cheezburger Image 9197027072
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: Initiate a friendship 

    Origin:In old port cities, before trains or cars, large cargo ships would break through the ice during winter to allow smaller trade vessels passage.


  • 18

    Give the cold shoulder

    Cheezburger Image 9197027328
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: ignore someone 

    History: In medieval England, it was actually a polite thing to do. To signal to guests it was time to leave, royalty would serve a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef or mutton.


  • 19

    Show your true colors

    Cheezburger Image 9197027584
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: To reveal your true colors 

    History: Warships flew multiple flags to confuse enemies, but rules of warfare states they must show their country's colors before firing. 


  • 20

    Rule of thumb

    Cheezburger Image 9197027840
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: A common benchmark 

    Origin: 17th Century Judge Sir Francis Buller ruled it legal to beat a wife if the stick was no thicker than his thumb


  • 21

    Waking up on wrong side of bed

    Cheezburger Image 9197028096
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    Via izismile

    Meaning: waking up grumpy 

    History: The left side of things was associated with evil. To prevent bad spirits, innkeepers even kept the left side of beds pushed up against walls.

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