Familiar Sayings and their Origins

saying-catThere have always been familiar sayings, idioms or expressions used during specific time periods or era and certainly used by our ancestors.

For example, we have all heard the phrase to make something Spick and Span. It goes back to the old Norse words referring to something brand new made of wood. Over time it referred to an item clean, not new. So if you want something spick and span you want it very clean.

Then if someone Get Your Goat, meant you were very annoyed at something or someone. If comes from the practice of placing goats in barns with other animals to keep them calm. So if your goat went missing, someone stole the goat, you would be upset as well as the other barn animals.

To Sleep Tight refers to the ropes used on beds that had to be tighten every few days so the bedding would not sag. Along the base of a bed, especially by the headboard and by the foot boards were small caps which a person had to tighten the ropes on. Ropes could also be on all four sides and looped back and forth. If the ropes were tighten you would have a best night’s rest.  saying -bed

The phrase, Cut Me Some Slack, means giving someone permission to do something usually not allowed.

When someone does something at The Drop of a Hat, they do it quickly without thinking first if it is right to do. Going back to Irish origins, it came from the practice of signaling the beginning of a fight by thrusting a hat in a downward swoop.

Another is Cat Got Your Tongue? It sounds a bit strange. Used to ask if someone has anything to say, especially for children. The phrase goes back to Middle Ages in Europe, where it was thought that, if you saw a witch, her cat would steal or control your tongue and your speaking ability. This way the witch was safe from your telling anyone you saw a witch.

saying spick

Photos: Cat got your tongue; a rope bed and cleaning spick and span.

Related FamilyTree.com genealogy blogs:

Funny Sayings of our Ancestors

Quaint Sayings

American Phrases


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