HISTORY BEHIND COMMONLY USED PHRASES
There are literally thousands of expressions across all languages, that we take for granted and give no thought as to their origins. More often than not, their explanations are truly fascinating and allow us to step back in time to when people’s lives were very different from our own today. As you will discover, many phrases stem from such things as social class, historical events, sport, and religion. Here are some of the most interesting!
Turn A Blind Eye
Meaning: Pretend not to notice. Origin: It is believed that this phrase originates with naval hero Horatio Nelson, who used his blind eye to look through his telescope. This way he was able to avoid signals from his superior, who wanted him to withdraw from battle. He attacked, nevertheless, and was victorious.
Bite The Bullet
Meaning: Decide to do something difficult or unpleasant that one has been putting off or hesitating over. Origin: During battles there was no time to administer anaesthesia while performing surgeries. Because of that, patients were made to bite down on bullets to distract themselves from the pain.
One For the Road
Meaning: A final drink before leaving a place. Origin: During the Middle Ages, the condemned ones were taken through what today is known as Oxford Street to their execution. During this final trip, the cart would stop and they would be allowed to have one final drink before their death.
Meaning: A holiday spent together by a newly married couple. Origin: According to tradition, a newlywed couple would have to drink a beverage with honey for an entire month for fertility and good luck.
Meaning: A possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.
Origin: White elephants were considered to be sacred creatures in Thailand, yet they were also very hard to take care of. It is believed that Siamese kinds (now Thailand) would gift white elephants as a subtle form of punishment, since taking care of this animal would drive the recipient into financial ruin.
Break A Leg
Meaning: Good luck!
Origin: It is believed that the phrase dates to World War I Germany and a saying used by German actors “Hals- und Beinbruch” which translates to “a broken neck and a broken leg.”Besides that, it still doesn’t make sense why would you wish someone to break a leg? Well, as it turns out, popular folklore down through the ages encouraged people to wish others bad luck since it was believed that wishing someone good luck would tempt evil spirits. So, you guessed it, people started wishing each other to break a leg in order for them not to break one!
Give The Cold Shoulder
Meaning: Reject or be deliberately unfriendly to. Origin: This saying, that is currently considered to describe someone as rude, was actually considered an act of politeness. During medieval times in England, after everyone was done feasting, the host would give his guests a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef or pork as a way of showing that it was time for everyone to leave.
Meaning: Used to claim the right to sit in the front passenger seat of a vehicle on a particular journey. Origin: This expression refers to the passenger of an old-fashioned stagecoach, who sat next to the driver with a shotgun to protect from attackers and robbers along the way. There is no evidence to suggest the expression was actually used in times of the ‘Wild West,’but most likely came about much later on, when media and films began to romanticize the period.
Meaning: Tears or expressions of sorrow that are insincere. Origin: Written in the 14th century, a book called“The Travels of Sir John Mandeville” recounts a knight’s adventures through Asia. In the book it says that crocodiles shed tears while eating a man they captured. Even though it is factually inaccurate, the phrase ‘crocodile tears’found its way into Shakespeare’s work and became an idiom in the 16th century, symbolizing insincere grief.
Kick The Bucket
Meaning: To die. Origin: When killing a cow at slaughterhouses, people would place a bucket under the animal while it was positioned on a pulley. While trying to adjust the animal, the cow would kick out its legs and therefore kick the bucket before being killed.