Ever wondered about a particular saying and where it came from?
raining cats and dogs – If you’ve corrected your child after he or she took this phrase literally, you may owe them a slight apology! The origin of this saying dates back to the 1600s. Poor drainage systems on buildings in the 17th century caused gutters to overflow, spewing out along with water, garbage and a few unexpected critters. It is possible that animals such as rodents lived in the thatched roofs and when it rained heavily, the dead carcasses would fall––undoubtedly unpleasant! As far as large dogs falling from the sky…well…that one will have to remain a mystery.
to be stumped – Be stumped no more! Being “stumped” comes from the pioneering days when the land was cleared to lay down train tracks. When the workers came across a tree stump, it would cause a dilemma or “to be stumped.”
wrong side of the tracks -Before there were cars, trains were an important means of transportation. Of course, pollution wasn’t a big concern so when a train rolled by, heavy black smoke and soot went with it. Usually the wind blew the black smoke to one side of the tracks and only the poorest of people would endure living in that hard to breathe environment. No one wanted to be on “the wrong side of the tracks.”
rule of thumb -“Rule of thumb” is derived from the days when woman were sometimes beaten with a switch. To be “kind” the switch could not be thicker than a thumb’s width. This was made law in 1782 when an English judge stated that men were allowed to beat their wives but that the stick could not be thicker than one’s thumb.
to propose a toast – This often used phrase comes from an 18th century punch bowl drink made with cider, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices and garnished with pieces of toast that would float on top.
good Samaritan – comes from the Bible (Luke 10:30-33), in which Jesus tells the parable of a priest who passes by a man in need of help, laying on the ground. A Samaritan, who was part of the enemy tribe, helps the man up and back to health when the priest does not…the message being that you should treat your enemy with the same good respect as your friend.
upper and lower case letters – The term started when letters were hand carved out of wood and were then laid out to be type set. The letters were kept on a two shelves in the work space…the big letters, or the upper case ones were kept on the top or “upper” shelf and the small or lower case letters were kept on the “lower” shelf to make it easy for the printer to keep things organised.
wrong end of the stick – This comes from the outhouse days when there were no flushing toilets and the other dates back much earlier, to the days of the Roman baths. Regardless, the outcome was the same! The person in the next stall may have asked for their neighbor to “pass the stick,” instead of toilet paper since that was yet to exist. The stick had a sponge on one end and if the recipient grabbed the wrong end, they’d be getting the wrong end of the stick. Most definitely unpleasant!
mad as a hatter – This phrase comes from the days when felt hats were made using a mercury on some cheaper furs, that caused the hatter to go mad, thus the “mad hatter” in Alice In Wonderland. Mercury poisoning caused tremors, brain damage, tooth loss, slurred speech, and more. A “mad hatter” was one to be avoided.
everything but the kitchen sink – comes from World War Two when everything possible was used to contribute to the war effort…all metal was used for the U.S arsenal. The only objects left out were porcelain kitchen sinks.
big wig– This term is derived from powdered wigs worn by men in the 18th century. The bigger the wig, the more wealthy the individual.
son of a gun – Sailors traveling to the west Indies sometimes raped native woman on ships, which sometimes occurred between the cannons. When a woman gave birth to a son, he was called “son between the guns.” This term was used later, using the word”gun” to mean soldier. His son would thus be called a “son of a gun.”
don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – Back in the pre-running water days, the order of the household determined which family member got to take the bath first. The man (or head of the household) naturally went first, followed by the children and the baby last. The water would become so dirty that when a baby was bathed in it, he could possibly be lost or even tossed out!
cut to the chase – In the black and white silent film movie era, in the 1920s, a chase scene was often the exciting part of the film. Who really wanted to sit through that other stuff, anyway? Cut to the chase meant to cut the film, or edit it down to the good part, the chase scene––no speaking necessary!
spick and span – The phrase is derived from two archaic words: spick, which was a spike or nail and span, which meant “wood chip.” When a ship was polished and new, it was called “spick and span,” meaning every nail and piece of wood was untarnished. The phrase originally meant “brand new” but is now used to indicate cleanliness.