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.
Bite the bullet
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.
Caught red handed
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.
Butter someone up
Meaning: Flatter someone
History: Ancient Indian custom of throwing butter at statues of Gods to seek favor
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
Kick the bucket
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
Cat got your tongue?
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
Spill the beans
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.
No spring chicken
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."
Rub the wrong way
Meaning: To irritate someone
History: Referring to colonial woodworkers who would dry-rub the oak against the grain
Blood is thicker than water
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.
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.
Go the whole 9 yards
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."
Pleased as punch
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
Go cold turkey
Meaning: to quit abruptly
History: Refers to drug addicts having pale skin with goosebumps during withdrawals, like the skin of a turkey
Saved by the bell
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
More than you can shake a stick at
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
Break the ice
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.
Give the cold shoulder
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.
Show your true colors
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.
Rule of thumb
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
Waking up on wrong side of bed
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.