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Showing posts from February, 2017

Between a rock and a hard place

In 1917 the lack of funding precipitated by the earlier banking crisis led to a dispute between copper mining companies and mineworkers in Bisbee, Arizona. The workers, some of whom had organized in labour unions, approached the company management with a list of demands for better pay and conditions. These were refused and subsequently many workers at the Bisbee mines were forcibly deported to New Mexico.

It's tempting to surmise, given that the mineworkers were faced with a choice between harsh and underpaid work at the rock-face on the one hand and unemployment and poverty on the other, that this is the source of the phrase. The phrase began to be used frequently in US newspapers in the late 1930s, often with the alternative wording 'between a rock and a hard spot'. Read about the full story here as well as some other times it showed up. (source)

In a figurative sense the phrase means that you are faced with two unsatisfactory choices and one needs to be chosen.

Apple of your eye

Originally meaning the central aperture of the eye it is more popular in its figurative sense. 

'The apple of my eye' is exceedingly old and first appears in Old English in a work attributed to King Aelfred (the Great) of Wessex, AD 885, titled Gregory's Pastoral Care.
Much later, Shakespeare used the phrase in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1600:
Flower of this purple dye, Hit with Cupid’s archery, Sink in apple of his eye
It also appears several times in the Bible; for example, in Deuteronomy 32:10 (King James Version, 1611)
He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
and in Zechariah 2:8:
For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.
The phrase was known from those early sources but became more widely used in the general population when Sir Walter Scott included it i…

Toe the Line

There are several ideas about the origin of this phrase. One comes from the arguments that happen in the British House of Commons. To deter members of opposing parties from attacking each other, two parallel red lines are marked, two sword-lengths apart, on the floor of the house. MPs are expected to stay behind these lines when a speech is in progress. Members, of course, no longer carry swords, but the tradition remains. Read more about it and the other theories here
Nowadays the phrase is used to communicate an expectation to conform to a standard. 

Silver Spoon

Mediaeval spoons were usually made of wood. Spoon was also the name of a chip or splinter of wood and it is likely that is how the table utensils derived their name. It has been a tradition in many countries for wealthy godparents to give a silver spoon to their godchildren at christening ceremonies. That may be the source of the phrase, or it may simply be derived from the fact that wealthy people ate from silver while others didn't. (source)

When we use the phrase today we are saying that the person being referenced was born into wealth.

Pull the wool over your eyes

The thought origin of this popular idiom is rather interesting and factual! Read about it here
The meaning of the phrase is to attempt to deceive or trick someone.

Mic Drop

Idioms can come into being at any time. Today's is proof of that. This saying appeared in the 1980's but in the past couple (few?) years has gained popularity and become part of slang speech.

It showed up in the 80s to mean delivering a performance or speech to get the better of someone in such a great way that you can just drop microphone and walk away victorious. Credit is given to Eddie Murphy for being one of the first to use it in a public setting. You can hear him use it in his comedy Delirious. Since 2012 the person who has continually used it in basically perfect ways is...President Obama!
(sources: Wikipedia on Mic Drop, A History of the Mic Drop, Obama Out)

Hold your horses

This idiom is pretty straightforward. And it doesn't seem to have an origin that has evolved. It has always carried the meaning to hold on and practice patience. You can read about when it first started appearing in print and other media here.

French Kiss

There are many theories about the origin of the kiss called a "french kiss." Read about them here.

Down to the wire

This expression is believed to have originated from horse racing, where a wire was hung up over the finish line to help determine a winner. Thus, races that were extremely close could be described as "coming down to the wire," quite literally. Read more about it here
These days we use this idiom when an outcome is unknown until the very last millisecond. 

Chow down

'Chow', in the sense of food, is recorded from the mid-19th century. In Spirit of Age, 1856 we get this line:

"Ah Chow- ah in the Celestial lingo means Mr, Chow something good to eat." (source)

When you hear chow down these days it means 'get ready to do some serious eating'!

Best thing since sliced bread

Sliced bread was first introduced in 1928 by Otto Frederick Rohwedder from Davenport, Iowa, who invented the first loaf-at-a-time bread slicing machine. However, the first record of the idiom is thought to be in 1952, where the famous comedian Red Skelton said in an interview with the Salisbury Times: "Don't worry about television. It's the greatest thing since sliced bread". (source)

It's used today to gush about something new and exciting or to compare a new invention to the invention of sliced bread.

Ants in your pants

To the bitter end

A possibility for this idiom comes from naval terms. It's said that a bitt is a post fastened in the deck of a ship, for fastening cables and ropes. When a rope is played out to the bitter end, it means there is no more rope to be used. Is that the origin of the idiom? It's not been confirmed. Read more about it here.

Now when it is used it's meant to explain the end of someone's efforts or the very end of something.

Sick as a dog

In the early 1700s diseases such as the plague would travel the globe via animals such as rats, birds, and yes, dogs. There was likely a widespread illness which was spread easily by dogs and the saying was created. (source)

Today it's simply a figure of speech that means someone is very sick.

Pot calling the kettle black

This phrase originates in Cervantes' Don Quixote, or at least in Thomas Shelton's 1620 translation - Cervantes Saavedra's History of Don Quixote:

"You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, 'Avant, black-browes'." (source)

The figurative meaning is that a criticism a person makes of another could equally well apply to themselves.

When the sh*t hits the fan

Interesting history with this phrase. It started off "dirty" and then more polite versions came after. Usually it's the other way around! Read about this history of this idiom here.

The explanation for what it means today is funny:
Messy and exciting consequences brought about by a previously secret situation becoming public.

Um. Exciting? Huh. Oookay?

For the birds

Before the advent of cars, one could see and smell the emissions of horse-drawn wagons in New York. Since there was no way of controlling these emissions, they - or the undigested oats in them - served to nourish a large population of English sparrows. If you said that something was for the birds, you're politely saying that it's horse crap. (source)

Today when the phrase is used its meaning is that it is something worthless.

Doubting Thomas

This phrase is literal in origin, in John 20:24-29 Thomas and Jesus had an exchange that earned Thomas the label "doubter." Then the nickname or label used for other people first appeared in 1883.

The meaning then is still the meaning today of the term. It is used to describe someone who is a habitually doubtful person, in other words a person who refuses to believe anything until they are given proof. (source)

Chew the fat

Read about the origin of this idiom here. Fascinating! And disgusting...

Today it has the same kind of idea - except without the actual fat to chew. (that's gross) It means to chat or engage in idle conversation. It's similar, or maybe exactly the same, to shoot the breeze.