header print

10 Phrases and Their Origins

 Could you imagine learning a new language and hearing someone say 'it's raining cats and dogs'? This could be very confusing to a new learner. Sometimes not even native speakers are able to explain what these sayings mean. Below, let's take a look at the origins of the most frequently used phrases. 
 
1. Cat Got Your Tongue
commonly used phrases

What it means: This phrase is said to someone who remains silent when they are expected to speak. 

Where it originated from: This saying is based on two stories. In the first one, it says that one could have come from a whip called 'cat-o'-nine-tails' that was used by the English Navy for flogging, which left victims speechless. In the second story, this idiom is believed to have originated from Egypt where liars' tongues were cut out as a punishment and fed to the cats.

2. The Walls Have Ears
commonly used phrases

What it means: Take care of what you say as people may be eavesdropping,

Where it originated from: The Louvre in France was believed to have a network of listening tubes so that it would be possible to hear everything that was said in different rooms. It was believed that this is how the Queen Catherine de'Medici discovered political secrets and plots. 

3. Bury The Hatchet
commonly used phrases

What it means: To end a quarrel or a conflict and become friendly. 

Where it originated from: During negotiations between Puritans and Native Americans, men would bury all of their weapons, making them inaccessible. 

4. Cold Feet
commonly used phrases

What it means: A loss of nerve or confidence.

Where it originated from: This idiom stems from a military term where warriors who had frozen feet were unable to rush into battle. 

5. Big Wig
commonly used phrases

What it means: This idiom refers to an important person, especially in a particular sphere. 

Where it originated from: Back in the 18th century, the most important political figures would wear the biggest wigs, which is why today influential people are called bigwigs. 

6. Caught Red-Handed
commonly used phrases

What it means: This idiom is used to indicate that a person has been discovered in or just after the act of doing something wrong or illegal. 

Where it originated from: An old law stated that if someone butchered an animal that didn't belong to him, he would only be punished if he was caught with blood on his hands. But if he was caught with the meat but with clean hands, he would not be punished. 

7. Raining Cats And Dogs
commonly used phrases

What it means: Raining very hard.

Where it originated from: This idiom has two stories attached to it. The first says that the phrase comes from Norse mythology, where cats would symbolize heavy rains and dogs were associated with the God of storms, Odin. According to the second story, it says that in the 16th century England, houses had thatched roofs which were one of the dew places where animals were able to get warm. On days where it would rain heavily the roofs would get slippery and cats and dogs will fall off, making it look like it's raining cats and dogs. 

8. Barking Up The Wrong Tree
commonly used phrases

What it means: To a pursue a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action.

Where it originated from: This phrase refers to hunting dogs who chase their prey up a tree. Once it climbed the tree, the dogs bark at them, though sometimes, the dogs would continue to bark even if the prey was no longer there. 

9. Don't Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth
commonly used phrases

What it means: To find a fault with something that has been received as a gift or favor. 

Where it originated from: When buying a horse, people would determine the horse's age and condition based on its teeth, and then decide whether they want to buy it or not. Consequently, this is why this idiom is used to imply that it is rude to look for flaws in a thing that was given to you as a gift. 

10. Blood Is Thicker Than Water
commonly used phrases

What it means: The most important relationships and loyalties are the strongest.

Where it originated from: While this saying means that we should put family ahead of friends, it actually meant the complete opposite. The full phrase initially was 'the blood covenant is thicker than the water of the womb', which referred to warriors who shared the blood the shed in battles together. These 'blood brothers' were said to have stronger bonds than their biological brothers. 
 

Images

Sign Up Free
Did you mean:
By clicking "Join", you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
Sign Up Free
Did you mean:
By clicking "Join", you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy