I must accept, I did not study as much in my school time as I do now when I sit with my kids. At that age, study was only about somehow mugging up syllabus and get good marks. The study pattern was also not that inclusive of going deep inot the subject. Coming straight to the point, I came across some idioms from my daughter’s textbook and it was then when I looked for how these idioms have centuries old tales to tell.
By definition, an idiom is a statement that cannot be comprehended literally; instead, you must understand its meaning, which rarely, if ever, seems to have any logical relationship to the exact words employed. After all, how precisely does “raining cats and dogs” logically translate to “it’s raining pretty hard”? There isn’t.
There is no clear written history benhind this one but I did find some interesting backstories to few idioms. Feel free to comment if you have something to add to these or to the ‘raining cats & dogs’
1. Take a Rain Check
Believe it or not, the phrase has its roots in athletics, notably baseball in the 1870s. Back then, the relevant teams would reissue tickets for the postponed game if a baseball game was rained out. Rain checks are the names given to these tickets. By the 1890s, the expression had started to be used less literally, leading to the eventual outcome that we today use take a rain check in a variety of scenarios that have absolutely nothing to do with baseball.
2. Pardon My French
Another extremely popular phrase that really doesn’t make any sense objectively is “pardon my French.” This expression is typically used in conjunction with a “Oh, pardon my French” comment after someone curses. Naturally, whatever was just said was probably not said in French; it was probably just spoken in plain old English. Why then should one be sorry for their French? Because the original speaker of the statement was actually speaking French at the time. It seems that throughout the 1800s, it was normal for educated people to smuggle in a few French phrases. However, those with less education would have only been able to speak English, thus they would not have understood a word that was being spoken. The expression became more common as a result. Nobody appears to know exactly how we transitioned from saying “Pardon my French” when speaking in true French to saying it when swearing.
3. Saved by the Bell
In contrast to the previous idioms, there are a few distinct theories as to how this one came into use. The phrase “saved by the bell” is said to have its origins in the 18th century. There was a lot of worry about the prospect that someone would be mistaken for dead and end up being buried alive at this time. As a result, a mechanism was created to address this issue (which, by all accounts, may have had some basis in reality). With this method, a string was tied to the finger of the supposed victim and the other end was attached to a bell placed outside the coffin. Then a guard was posted nearby. The concept was that, should it turn out that the deceased was not quite as dead as everyone thought, they could still be able to move, which would sound the bell and warn the guard. Even while this is an intriguing story, there is a notable absence of supporting evidence.
4. Bury the Hatchet
Bury the hatchet is a traditional Native American practise. The chiefs of two rival tribes would actually bury two battle axes as part of a peace ceremony. Since all of the testimonies we have are from colonists, it is possible that this custom is even older than the earliest documents, which date back to the late 1600s. The oldest Iroquois mythology, which describes how the Five Nations united and marked the new peace by burying their weapons under a tree, is the closest thing we have to a Native American narrative. They picked a tree, though, that grew above an underground river, and as a result, the weapons were washed away. However, it is unclear how old this tale is. In any case, the phrase, which was initially only employed in relation to this ritual, gradually spread to other contexts.
5. God Bless You
Similar to the expression “saved by the bell,” there are several alternative origin stories for the expression “bless you.” According to one version of the legend, sneezing somehow exposed you to attacks from bad spirits. Therefore, you were essentially attempting to shield the individual who sneezed by blessing them. According to a different legend, the ban was instituted by Pope Gregory I amid a bubonic plague outbreak, which sneezing was one of the symptoms of. The pope rather understandably felt that, given the mortality rates associated with the bubonic plague, any chance for extra divine help was not to be passed over, and therefore encouraged the practice of blessing people when they sneezed. Yet another story contends that the custom evolved in response to a pervasive belief that the heart briefly stops when you sneeze. According to this story, the reason you bless someone is either to congratulate them on surviving the sneeze or to enable their survival in the first place. So which story is true? Uh. Well. We…don’t actually know.
A Shot of Whiskey – A drink of whiskey and a.45 calibre cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents each in the old west. Cowhands would frequently give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink if they were short on cash. A “shot” of whiskey was later coined for this.
14 thoughts on “Interesting stories behind some popular Idioms”
I’d wondered about a shot of whiskey. Interesting!
Thank you Mike.
Great post. Thanks for sharing My Friend.
Thank you for the encouragement.
Pleasure. Have an awesome day.
Thanks a lot
Interesting I didn’t know shot of whisky or rain check. Maggie
Thank you Maggie
This is very Informative Namita!
Thanks for Sharing.
Thank you so much for your comment.
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