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Showing posts from August, 2017

Buh bye idioms, it was nice getting to know you!

And so for the past 365 days we've learned about idioms together. Some we've all heard before, others we hadn't. Some I didn't even get to!

There's no doubt about it, as Flula Borg said, "The hardest portion of English, I must say it: Idioms." But now we all have a better knowledge about what some of the more obscure ones mean or intend to convey. I hope it was fun for you, it was for me!

I now leave you with this very profound thought *by* Ted (of Bill and Ted)...

365 is taking a break but a short one! I'll be back at the end of September with an all new 365. #ICannotWait #WaitForIt #HashtagNotPoundSign #TooManyHashtags #365Experiment #TakeAGuess #SeeYouSoon

Heard it through the grapevine

Soon after the telegraph was invented the term 'grapevine telegraph' was coined - first recorded in a US dictionary in 1852. This distinguished the new direct 'down-the-wire' telegraph from the earlier method, which was likened to the coiling tendrils of a vine. It's clear that the allusion was to interactions amongst people who could be expected to be found amongst grapevines, that is, the rural poor. Read more about it here.

Today we use the phrase to mean we heard some information through an unofficial source.

Add insult to injury

Shiver me timbers

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "shiver my timbers" as "a mock oath attributed in comic fiction to sailors." (source) But other sources say it is more literal - that a shiver back in the day indicated something breaking into pieces. So when a cannonball would hit it would shiver the timbers. (source)

It seems today it's used mostly to talk like a pirate, ha! But it is also used to express surprise - both good and bad.

Wouldn't harm a fly

This phrase, then and now, suggests that someone is so gentle, or nonviolent, that they would not even harm a single, pesky little fly. It first appeared in 1778, read about it here.

Break the ice

There's an interesting theory about this phrase involving steam-powered icebreaker ships but it turns out that before those ships were around breaking up ice the phrase popped up in a poem authored by Samuel Butler. Read about it here.

Using the phrase today is exclusive to the context of social situations in which there is a first time meeting between people or a tension that exists. 

The sky's the limit

This phrase originated at a time of optimism and progress - in the USA just before WWI. It appeared in print in 1911, read about it here.

We use it to say there are no limits to what can be done.


The origin of this phrase is a little scattered and employs really old language. Rather than copy and paste it into this post I'll just let you read about it here.

When we use it we mean it to indicate going full steam ahead, which is it's own phrase as well. It's origin is based on the literal use of full steam in ships, which makes them go at their top speed. (source)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

This saying first appeared in the 3rd century BC in Greek. It didn't appear in its current form in print until the 19th century, but in the meantime there were various written forms that expressed much the same thought. Continue reading about this phrase here.

The meaning behind this phrase is that beauty is subjective. A simple definition of subjective is relating to the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind; based on feelings or opinions rather than facts.

There's a movie that is a great portrait of this phrase...

Wild goose chase

I thought the origin of this phrase certainly included geese but I was very wrong. It actually has its origins in 16th century horse racing. Go figure! Read about it here.

Figuratively the phrase means chasing something that probably won't yield any results.

Silence is golden

As with many proverbs, the origin of this phrase is obscured by the mists of time. There are reports of versions of it dating back to Ancient Egypt. The first example of it in English is from the poet Thomas Carlyle, continue reading about it here. What's so funny, to me, is that Carlyle wrote a lengthy essay on the virtues of silence. Anyone else catch the irony in that? 😏

Anyway. The intended meaning of the phrase, then and now, is that sometimes the best "answer" or "response" is silence.

My cup of tea

This phrase goes back to at least the 1930s, read about it here.

Quick on the draw

Until the 1930s this phrase was strictly used for guns and shootings but then it started being used in its modern way, performing an action with haste. (source)