Origins of Sayings

Many sayings or expressions used today had a reason for the saying in its beginning. Our ancestors did just say the phrase, it really meant something.

See if any of the following you are familiar with and especially if you recall a relative or ancestor using the phrase. Include it and its origin in the family history.

There is ‘rub you the wrong way‘ – is to irritate or annoy someone. In the English colonies it originally meant the the woodworkers were doing a dry-rub to oak wood, rubbing it against its grain.

Butter up someone‘ – this phrase refers to flatting someone, giving many compliments for some other purpose. Originally it was the East Indian practice of throwing butter at at their Gods in order to seek the God’s favor.

Are you ‘jaywalking‘ – not crossing the street at a crosswalk, a dangerous situation. Originally refers to an inexperience or novice person.

You can ‘bite the bullet‘ – don’t be afraid, do something even if you don’t want to. Originally, during early wars and battles, if a doctor needed to do a painful medical procedure, the soldier was given a bullet to bite down to distract them.

There is ‘kick the bucket‘ – meaning to pass away. Originally, in slaughterhouses, a bucket to catch blood was placed under an animal before being killed and sometimes the bucket was kicked over by the animal.

You were ‘caught red handed‘ – means you were caught in the act of committing a crime. Originally, in Scotland in the 1400s, acceptable proof that a person killed someone else’s animal was if blood was on the person’s hands.

There is the phrase ‘the cat has got your tongue‘ – one is unable to speak or doesn’t know what to say at a certain moment. In the 1880s it was said to children who were afraid to speak. Originally during the medieval period (1300s-1400s), someone found to be a liar had they tongues removed and fed to the cats.

The saying ‘sleep tight’ many of your relatives will know. It means to have a good night’s sleep. Originally before mattresses and box springs on beds, there were ropes tied to the bed frame in a back and forth motion, then a soft bedding added on top was the mattress. So to firm up the bed to sleep better you had to make sure the ropes were tight.

The ‘whole nine yards‘ refers to doing your very best, going the full distance. Originally, most recent times, during World War II (early 1940s), combat planes had the bullets in chains of 27 feet which is nine yards. If all the bullets were fired they had used the full nine yards.

The phrase ‘mad as a hatter‘ means one is totally insane – crazy. Originally, hat makers in 17th century France often got mercury poisoning from their work, which caused them to become a bit unbalanced.

Using the ‘acid test‘ helps proves what is being checked. Originally in the 1840s to 1880s in California with the gold rush, prospectors would use acid to test whether a discovered metal was actually gold.

To say ‘off the record‘ means unofficial, not to be quoted. It comes during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s terms when he spoke on the radio to the American public. However, he did like to make comments without any recordings or radio to the press – off the record.

Photos: Jaywalking today, Bite the bullet, a rope bed and a hat maker.

Related Blogs:

Funny Sayings of your Ancestors

Old Words New Again

Quaint Sayings

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