Say What? The Odd Origins of 10 Common Phrases

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Phrases and idioms are an integral part of language, and they add color, humor, and context to our conversations. Many phrases have their origins in history and culture, and understanding their history can help us appreciate their meanings even more. In this article, we will explore the origins of ten common phrases that we use in our everyday conversations.

“Bite the Bullet”

This originated during times of war when soldiers had to undergo surgery without anesthesia. They were given a bullet to bite down on to help them endure the pain.

“Break a Leg”

This phrase is commonly used in the theater industry to wish performers good luck. It originated in the superstition that wishing someone good luck could actually bring them bad luck, so saying the opposite would bring them good luck.

“Caught Red-Handed

Originating from the idea that if someone was caught committing a crime, their hands would often be stained with blood, ink, or some other evidence of their wrongdoing.

“Cost an Arm and a Leg”

When portraits were painted, artists charged extra for painting the subject’s arms and legs. Hence something expensive cost more than a usual portrait but also an arm and a leg.

“Let the Cat out of the Bag”

This phrase originated from the practice of dishonest farmers who would sell a piglet in a bag to unsuspecting customers. If the customer didn’t check the bag before buying, they would “let the cat out of the bag” and realize they had been swindled.

“Raining Cats and Dogs”

From the 17th century, houses used to have thatched roofs that allowed animals like cats and dogs to climb up and take shelter during heavy rainstorms. During heavy rains, these animals would sometimes fall from the roofs, leading people to believe that it was “raining cats and dogs.”

“Sleep Tight”

This phrase is often used when saying goodnight to someone. It originated from the practice of using ropes to support mattresses, which had to be tightened regularly to prevent sagging.

“Spill the Beans”

In ancient Greece, they used beans to vote. When someone wanted to rig the vote, they would spill the beans and reveal the true results.

“The Whole Nine Yards”

This phrase originated during World War II when fighter planes were equipped with nine yards of ammunition. If a pilot used all of their ammunition, they were said to have given “the whole nine yards.”

“Turn a Blind Eye”

Originating from the actions of Admiral Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, when ordered to withdraw, he held his telescope up to his blind eye and said he could not see the signal. This allowed him to continue the battle, which ultimately led to victory.

Phrases and idioms are a reflection of the culture and history of the people who use them. Learning about their origins can provide insight into how people thought and communicated in the past. As language continues to evolve, it’s fascinating to see how old phrases are still relevant and meaningful in our modern lives. The ten phrases explored in this article are just a few examples of the rich history behind the words we use every day.

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