Every wonder where some of the more popular phrases commonly used in the English language originated?

Here are a few common sayings and some educated guesses as to how they originated.

Have You Ever Said ...?

  • It’s Raining Cats and Dogs: In the olden days, whenever that was, houses had straw or thatched roofs. Pets including cats and dogs made their way to the roof to keep warm. When it rained heavily the roof became slippery and the animals would sometimes slip and fall off the roof.
  • Waiting With “Bated Breath:” I’m not even sure bated is an actual word. It’s not baited that would have a whole other meaning but baited is commonly used too. Shakespeare used it and was probably a shortened version of “abated breath” meaning to reduce or restrict breathing.
  • Taken With A Grain Of Salt: Or sometimes said, “Taken with a pinch of salt.” It means I will listen to what you have to say but I will maintain a level of skepticism. It was believed at one time that many bad tasting things could be taken by mouth if you added a little salt. Salt was also believed to be an antidote for some poisons when mixed with the right herbs or plants.
  • Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining: Meaning that in every bad situation there is also some good. Milton gets the credit for this one in Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634. Many variations have been used in literature ever since.
  • Did You Ever Butter Someone Up? Ancient Indians believed that throwing clarified butter at statues of the Gods would put the butter pitchers in good standing. I wonder how the statues really felt about being covered in butter? Pigeons anyone?
  • Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater: People in the 1500s took a yearly bath. Yes, once a year. Men were first being the breadwinner, then wives, then children and finally babies. By the time everyone used the tub the water was not exactly clear. So you had to make sure the tub was empty of everyone before throwing out the bathwater. In other words be careful of your decisions.
  • Rule of Thumb: Good ole English Judge Sir Francis Buller was a very compassionate judge. In the 17th century he ruled that beating your wife was no problem as long as you used a stick that was no wider than the thumb. His wife must have been so thankful.

Some Final Thoughts

The things we come up with in our language never ceases to amaze me. There are many more that I could have used but space is limited.

What are some of your favorite sayings?

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