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17 Common Sayings and Their Origins

Edited By: Krista Mc'Farlene
 Most of us are familiar with the common sayings below. But few of us know where they come from. Take the common saying: Kick the bucket - we've probably wondered what a bucket has to do with death. Do you have any ideas? Here are 15 common sayings and where they came from:
 
 
Bite the Bullet
common sayings

What does it mean? Accepting something difficult or unpleasant.
Where does it come from? Before, during the war, there was no time to administer anesthesia before emergency surgery. Instead, the surgeon made patients bite down on a bullet in an attempt to distract them from the pain. 

Blood is Thicker than Water

What does it mean? Family comes over and above everything else.
Where does it come from? In ancient Middle Eastern culture, blood rituals were performed between men to symbolize a bond that was far greater than those of family. It was believed that blood brother warriors who symbolically shared the blood they shed in battle together were said to have a stronger bond than biological brothers.   

Break the Ice

What does it mean? To initiate a friendship or to start a project.
Where does it come from? Prior to trains or cars, port cities that thrived on trade suffered during the winter because frozen rivers prevent commercial ships from entering the city. To solve this issues, small ships known as 'icebreakers' would then rescue the icebound ships by breaking the ice and creating a path for them to follow. Today it has quite a different meaning - before any type of business arrangement today, it is now customary to break the ice before beginning a project. 

Butter Someone Up
common sayings

What does it mean? To flatter someone.
Where does it come from? In an ancient Indian custom, clarified butter was thrown at statues of the gods to seek favor. 

Cat Got Your Tongue?

What does it mean? This saying is said when a person is at a loss for words. 
Where does it come from? This common saying has two possible sources. The first refers to the cat-o'-nine tails - a whip used by the English Navy for flogging. The whip had caused so much pain, the victims were left speechless. The second refers to the practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats. 

Caught Red-Handed

What does it mean? Caught doing something wrong.
Where does it come from? This saying originated because of law. Some time ago, if someone butchered an animal that didn't belong to him, and was caught with the animal's blood on his hands, he had to be convicted. But being caught with freshly cut meat did not make the person guilty.

Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
common sayings

What does it mean? Hang on to valuable things when getting rid of unnecessary things. 
Where does it come from? In the 1500s, most people would bathe once a year and when they did bathe the entire family would use the same tubful of water. The man of the house would bathe first, then the females and finally, the babies. By the time the babies came to wash, the water would be thick and cloudy. Consequently, the infants' mothers had to take care not to throw them out with the bathwater when they emptied the tub. 

Eat Humble Pie

What does it mean? To make an apology and suffer humiliation with it.
Where does it come from? During the Middle Ages, the lord of a manor would hold a feast after hunting. Yet, while he would feast on the finest cut of meat at dinner, those of a lower standing were served a pie filled with entrails and innards, which were then known as 'umbles'. So, receiving an 'umble pie' was considered humiliating because it signified the guest's lower status. 

Give the Cold Shoulder

What does it mean? This is considered to be a rude way of telling someone that he isn't welcome. 
Where does it come from? Today, giving the cold shoulder is considered rude. But it was actually regarded as a polite gesture during medieval England. At the end of a feast, the host would let his guests know it was time to leave by giving them a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef, mutton or pork. 

 
Go Cold Turkey
common sayings

What does it mean? To quit something all of a sudden.
Where does it come from? It was believed that during withdrawal, the skin of drug addicts would become translucent, hard to touch and covered with bumps and would resemble the skin of a plucked turkey. 

Go the Whole 9 Yards

What does it mean? To try your best.
Where does it come from? During the Second World War, fighter pilots received a 9-yard chain of ammunition. The saying came about when a pilot used all of his ammunition on one target, he gave it 'the whole 9 yards.'

Jaywalker

What does it mean? Someone who crosses the street in a reckless or illegal manner. 
Where does it come from? The term comes from jay birds who traveled outside of the forest into urban areas became confused and unaware of the potential dangers in the city - such as traffic. Fascinated by their erratic behavior people began using the term 'jaywalker' to describe someone who crossed the street irresponsibly. 

Let Your Hair Down
common sayings

What does it mean? To relax or to be at ease.
Where does it come from? Parisian nobles risked being condemned by their peers if they appeared in public without an elaborate hairdo. As some of the more intricate styles required hours of work, it would always be a relaxing moment to come home at the end of a long day and let their hair down. 

Kick the Bucket

What does it mean? Simply put, it means to die!
Where does it come from? When a cow was killed at a slaughterhouse a bucket was placed under it while it was positioned on a pulley. There were times when the animal's legs would kick during the adjustment of the rope and it would kick the bucket before being killed. 

More Than You Can Shake a Stick At

What does it mean? To have more of something than you actually need. 
Where does it come from? Farmers controlled their sheep by shaking their staffs to show animals where they had to go. But when farmers had more sheep than they could control, it was said they had 'more than you can shake a stick at.'

No Spring Chicken
common sayings

What does it mean? Someone who is no longer in their prime.
Where does it come from? In New England, chicken farmers generally sold their chickens during the spring because chickens born at that time of year yielded better earnings than the chickens that survived the winter. Sometimes, farmers would try to sell old birds for the price of a new spring chicken. As buyers who were aware of this complained that the fowl was 'no spring chicken' the term then came to represent anyone past their prime. 

Pleased as Punch

What does it mean? To be very happy.
Where does it come from? During the 17th century, a puppet show for children called Punch and Judy featured a puppet named Punch who killed people. Punch felt pleased with himself after the act of killing as it brought him so much pleasure. 

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