The real truths behind these common cliches
Oxford Dictionaries Blog Growing up in the part of the world means you’ve probably heard each and every single cliche phrase out there, over and over again. There’s the one about spilling the milk and crying, a fat lady singing, and the thing with the apples and the doctors. But do you ever stop and wonder where the fuck they even came from?
I do. It keeps me up at night.
Pixabay “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
This phrase actually comes from a Welsh saying that translates to “Eat an apple upon going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” Except, this has nothing to do with the apples directly.
Back in the day, it was a Welsh custom to eat fried apples with caraway seeds, which were thought to have health benefits. The apple was more of a delivery vehicle for the healthy seeds in early days. Nowadays, however, we know what apples are healthy too.
Pixabay “Let the cat out of the bag.”
There are two possible origins for this phase. The first refers to the cat-o’-nine-tails whip, which was used as punishment on Royal Navy ships. If a sailor were to rat out another, he’d be letting the “cat out of the bag.”
The second refers to the common scam where they’d be buying a suckling pig, wrapped in a sack, only to find they’ve got an angry cat when they get home.
Either way, it’s about revealing information that someone already didn’t know.
The word “scot” in Old or Middle English means “tax.” So getting off ‘Scot-free’ originally described someone who got away with not paying taxes.
Pixabay “Adam’s Ale”
This doesn’t refer to beer in any way, shape or form, but to water. This refers back to the fact that Adam’s first drink in the garden of Eden would have been water.
This phrase originates back to the temperance movement in the 1830’s and during the prohibition in the ’30’s. While it’s not commonly used by us younger kids, boomers and up really love this cliche.
Pixabay “Resting on your laurels”
When someone is resting on their laurels, it describes someone who’s become complacent or satisfied with their achievements.
This goes back to the good old Greek days, where laurel wreaths were given as a symbol of status and victory. Such people would refer back to their past accomplishments as evidence of their superiority, while being lazy and complacent in the present.
Pixabay “Long in the tooth”
While our teeth don’t grow as we age, horses’ teeth do. This is how they determine how old your steed actually is.
Today, we use it to describe someone who’s been around for a long time.
Pixabay “Baker’s Dozen”
This phrase refers to the number 13, rather than 12, and there’s a few reasons behind it.
For the most part, this goes back to medieval England, when a baker would add in an extra loaf, in order to avoid being accused of shorting their customers. According to the law, there was a minimum weight that baked goods had to meet. Adding in an extra loaf, accounted for variations in each loaf, to ensure the minimum weight was met.
Later that century, the term also became popular, when bakers would give customers 12 fresh loaves, and throw in one from yesterday as a bonus, just to get rid of it.
Pixabay “As pleased as Punch”
This has nothing to do with the party drink, but with a puppet. Starting in the 17th century, ‘Punch and Judy Shows’ were popular in England. These two puppets would act out a physically and verbally abusive relationship between Punch and Judy. While people at the time thought they were funny and entertaining, the term refers to the malicious joy that Punch got in tormenting his wife.
The phrase has nothing to do with the metal or the color, but was an obscure word for a sound.
Dating back to the 16th century, describing something as sliver means that it has a melodious sound, just like ringing silver.
So someone who’s silver-tongued, is well-spoken, persuasive and lovely to listen to.
Pixabay “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”
This cliche stems from the end of the Ring Cycle in Opera, where the Valkyrie Brünnhilde has a 20 minute farewell scene to end the whole thing.
Now, it’s meant to be encouraging; that nothing’s over until it’s over.
Pixabay “Blowing a Raspberry”
Used primarily in English-speaking countries, this goes back to the late 19th century, and is a result of Cockney rhyming slang.
The word “Raspberry” is a shortened way of saying “Raspberry Tart,” which rhymes with “fart.” Therefore, a raspberry is a fart.
Pixabay “The writing is on the wall”
While people say this when a situation is becoming difficult, unpleasant or obvious, the term actually has its origins in the bible.
It comes from the Book of Daniel, where King Belshazzar is feasting. looting and being impious, when a disembodied hand appears and writes on the wall that his days are numbered.
Pixabay “Paint the town red”
When a baby boomer says this, they mean you’re gonna party like it’s the 1990’s or something, but the origins are much older.
In 1837, the Marquess of Waterford and her entourage, vandalized the English town of Melton Mowbray. They broke windows, knocked over flower pots and literally painted doors and statues red.
Pixabay “Getting your just deserts”
Most people get this one wrong, as they think it’s “just desserts;” as in something sweet. That’s not the case.
The word ‘desert’ in this case, refers to something you’ve earned or deserve. It’s about karmic retribution, and less about cake and creme brûlée.
Pixabay “A dime a dozen”
This common phrase actually refers to eggs. Back in the 1800’s, a common marketing gimmick was to price food and drink in such a way that customers only needed a dime to pay for it. This was pretty common when it came to buying eggs.
Now, it means that something is common and not that expensive or noteworthy.
Holy Shmoley, I understand stuff now.
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