I have researched the following phrases and in many instances there is more than one origin. In some instances I have taken what I find to be the most popular one. It is up to you the reader to decide if I am correct. There may be no finite correct answer.
Do you know of a phrase and it’s origin I can add to this feature, or do you have a phrase you do not know the origin of and you would like me to research it. Please feel free to email me with it and I will do my best.
Where Did That Saying Come From?
Daughters of the British Empire in Tennessee
Not Ourselves but the Cause
Derived from the 12th Century Jail on Clink Street in London. This Jail mainly held prisoners accused of ecclesiastical crimes
Chew the Fat.
Thought to have come from when a host would give his visitor a piece of fatty bacon to chew as they discussed the latest news events etc.
In Bury St Edmonds England in 1876 Hiram Codd designed a method of sealing fizzy drinks bottle using a glass marble sealed into the bottle neck against a rubber seal. His bottle was an instant success and became known as a Codd. The Wallop part comes from an early name fro beer and beer drinkers would sarcastically call the soft drink bottle a CoddsWallop. Hence the name was used for any that meant rubbish.
Go the Whole Nine Yards.
This one is a beauty in terms of correctness. There is no correct answer and the origin is shrouded by historical uncertainty. Chose the one you think is best.
In WW2, aircraft gunners used to load their machine guns with bandoliers of ammunition which measured nine yards. If you used all your ammunition on a mission it was said that “You had Gone the Whole Nine Yards”
A Scotsman’s kilt is made up of nine yards of material when it is of the topmost quality. Lesser quality Kilts had eight or seven or six yards.
A top class mans suit used nine yards of fabric to make it. So if someone said you had gone the Whole Nine Yards then you had bought the best.
A concrete mixer holds nine cubic yards of mixed concrete so when a driver returned to base empty he had Gone the Whole Nine Yards.
Suggestion 5 (and I stop here)
Field gun personnel laid out enough ammunition to last a day of shelling; this measured nine yards, so when you had exhausted all the ammunition you had Gone the Whole Nine Yards.
This is another saying that does not mean what we all think.
To identify this one you have to look at both words individually.
Ringer means a horse that was substituted for the original and then paraded around the country as the real one.
Ok so what about Dead. Some phrases using this word are Dead Centre, Dead Heat. In these contexts Dead means exact, so Dead Ringer means a Exact duplicate.
Bobs your Uncle.
As with many sayings there can be many originations and this one is no different.
Bob's your Uncle means your good to go. It is thought to date back to 1887, when the then British Prime Minister Robert Cecil decided to appoint Arthur Balfour to the highly important post of Chief Secretary for Ireland.
It just happened that Arthur Balfour was a nephew to the PM and called him Uncle Bob. It soon became known that if you said Bobs Your Uncle you were being sarcastic regarding any outcome that’s was favoured by nepotism. The sands of time have wiped the memory of the incident and the phrase lost its origin meaning. We now use it generally for anything that’s Ok. If you were describing a task and ended the description with “And Bobs your Uncle” you would mean its OK or its good.
Another theory arises from the British Raj days in India when the British commander Lord Earl Roberts was the most successful British Commander of the Victorian days. He was very well respected among his soldiers and became affectionately knows as “Uncle Bob”. The phrase “Bobs your Uncle” was thought to have been used to mean all is well Uncle Bob has won another battle.
So there are two theories for you to peruse and it is up to you which one is the most endearing.
Surprisingly this comes from the 1900s and the British Army serving in India.
There was a mental institution named the Deolali Sanatorium, Marashtra. When soldiers became a little crazy from the boredom and hardships of life in India, they were sent to this sanatorium until they could be sent home on the next Troopship. Hence the term Gone Doolally or gone to the Deolai Sanitorium.
Saved by the Bell.
Comes from the Boxing world where a losing fighter would be saved from defeat by the bell sounding for the end of the round.
There are ideas that this came from the 17th to 18th century where notable citizens were afraid of being buried alive so hooked up a rope to the coffin at one end and a bell at the outer end and if they woke up in a coffin they could ring the bell. There were many devices patented for such a thing so it would have been plausible to use such a phrase.
Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey.
Many people like to think of a Brass Monkey as a term to describe a triangular device used on early fighting ships to hold the canon balls in place until they were required. When the weather became very cold the brass would contract forcing the canon balls off the monkey.
It is hardly possible that this can be correct as the balls would have rolled off as the ship pitched and rolled in the heavy seas.
It is more likely that the phrase comes from the brass money figurines (Hear No evil etc.) and the noses stuck out from the face, so if it was extremely cold it is feasible that the nose could get cold enough to snap off. It Ibis also thought that the phrase could have come from Freezing the tail of a brass monkey as referred to in a book named “Before the Mast” by CA Abbey in 1857.
There are numerous stories concerning this subject.
The Full Monty.
One again many version of this phrase abound but the most popular I describe below.
In 1903 Montague and Burton opened their first men’s tailors in Chesterfield Derbyshire and they sold two piece suits as a basic option.
For a further sum of money you could purchase a Three Piece Suit which added a waistcoat and a spare pair of trousers. If you had purchased the three piece suit you were said to have gone the Full Monty.
Kick the Bucket.
Used as early as the 1800s in Norfolk the Bucket was a contraption used to hang a pig when the butcher was going to slaughter it. As the pig died it kicked out at the bucket.
Visitors to the Anne Hathaway's cottage (near Stratford upon Avon) are given this explanation while looking at the bread oven beside the fireplace in the kitchen: "The bread was put, as a raw lump of dough, straight into the bread oven. No bread tin, it just sits on the floor of the oven. The oven is heated by the fire and is very hot at the bottom. When the bed is done baking and taken out to cool, the base of the loaf is overcooked black and also dirty. The top of the loaf is done just right, and still clean. The bottom of the loaf is for the servants to eat, while the upper crust is for the master of the house.
Mind your P's and Q's
In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's."
Not fit to hold a candle to.
A menial household task was holding a candle for someone while they completed some type of activity. Some people were not held in much esteem; therefore they were "not fit to hold a candle to."
Pig in a Poke.
Farmers would take their baby pigs to market in a sack (poke). Some unscrupulous ones would tie a large cat in the bag and try to sell it as a piglet sight unseen. Someone buying that way was said to buy a pig in a poke. It is the same these days but we use the Latin term 'Caveat Emptor' or ‘Let the Buyer Beware’ This phrase is also linked to ‘Let the Cat out of the Bag’, where a cat would be substituted for a Pig and if someone opened the bag and let the cat out the seller was exposed as a swindler.
However another origin of "To let the Cat out of the Bag" comes from the days of sailing ships.
When a sailor was to be punished it would very often be by being lashed using a "Cat of Nine Tails" This was a whip with nine lashes on it. This whip was kept in a canvas bag and on the day of punishment the Cat was let out of the Bag.
Rule of Thumb.
The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.
Saving Face or Losing Face.
The noble ladies and gentlemen of the late 1700s wore much makeup to impress each other. Since they rarely bathed, the makeup would get thicker and thicker. If they sat too close to the heat of the fireplace, the makeup would start to melt. If that happened, a servant would move the screen in front of the fireplace to block the heat, so they wouldn't "lose face."
Way back when floors in houses were made from hard packed earth. To make this more livable people would spread straw on the floors, but that would be drawn out by walking in and out of the door, so a threshold was used to prevent this. The raised door entrance held back the straw (called thresh) on the floor.
Get out of bed on the wrong side.
An old superstition said that it was bad luck to put the left foot down when getting out of bed.
Mind your own Beeswax.
This came from the days when smallpox was a regular disfigurement. Fine ladies would fill in the pocks with beeswax. However when the weather was very warm the wax might melt. But it was not the thing to do for one lady to tell another that her makeup needed attention. Hence the sharp rebuke to "mind your own beeswax!"
Term used to politely point ot to a lady that her petticoat is showing below her skirt.
Now this one was difficult and there is no outright answer. However the popular belief is that it comes from King Charles IIs death. He used to be a bit of a ladies man so when he died many ladies dropped there petticoats to just below the skirt line as a mark of respect.
So you thought this was just a word. Wrong!
The term Bonfire comes from using old bones, stored up through the summer, to make a fire with in the winter and to keep warm.
It is also thought to come from the 1500s when the Bishop of London named Edward Bonner ordered the burning at the stake of over 300 men and women, because of their faith, or lack of it. Hence the name Bon Fire.
Burning the Candle at both Ends.
In the days before electricity clerks to wealthy people would work late into the night and used a candle to light their work. To make more light they would light both ends of the candle but the candle would burn out twice as fast. So the term came to mean someone who would work hard but wear themselves out.
The popular belief is that this saying came from medievel Britain where the poor people's houses had dirt floors, whereas rich people had stone or wooden floors. There is no eveidence to support this belief. In fact it is more likely that this saying comes from the Depression Years in the USA where Plains Farmers lost everything except the dirt they stood on, hence the saying he is Dirt Poor.
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