I hope you’ve had a good start this year!
Since we’re back in business I thought we’d start the year in a cheerful tone!
I bet you use lots of phrases and expressions every day, just like all of us. Obviously you know their meaning, since you use them, but have you ever wondered how they came into use?
Lots of expression originated in real life situations, but as the world changed, habits changed as well and only the words remained, the origin of the saying being lost in the mists of time.
The funny fact is that even some very common phrases have a rather strange explanation.
Let us start with two extremely common words:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hello is an alteration of “hallo, hollo” which came from Old German. The use of “hello” as a telephone greeting has been credited to Thomas Edison, who used it in the very first telephone call.
We say this all time, but I bet you’ll be very surprised to know that this is a contraction of the words “God be with ye” (the old version of ‘you’).
When you find why we say this whenever someone sneezing, you might get chills up your spine next time someone says it to you.
Saying this after someone sneezes dates back to the sixth century, when the plague spread across much of Europe. Pope Gregory started the trend of saying “bless you” after a sneeze, as a sneeze was often the first sign of infection.
This is the abbreviation is of „oll korrect,” , an intentional misspelling of “all correct”. Misspelling became a fad in the US in the 1830s, being used in many newspapers.
Another version states that O.K stands for “0 killed”, a phrase used by pilots during WWII after a mission without casualties, but even if this was the case, it is not how the expression originated, since the expression is much older than that.
Who doesn’t use this word, especially in the 21st century when everything revolves around deadlines? It is mainly used in our work, but “deadline” of today started as an actual line that was drawn to stop prisoners escaping in the American Civil War – they would be shot in the head if they crossed it.
So next time your boss gives you a deadline, you’d better not miss it!
A Spinster is a word used to describe an unmarried woman, although I doubt any of them still use a spinning wheel.
Originally a spinster was simply a woman who used to make a living by spinning wool on a spinning wheel. But, in the 18th century many unmarried women supported themselves that way so by the end of the century ‘spinster’ was a synonym for a middle-aged unmarried woman.
Saved by the bell
Most of us probably connect this saying with school and the bell that announces the end of a class, but the expression has a much more gruesome origin and it comes from a fear of being buried alive.
In the 17th century a string was tied to the deceased’s wrist and passed through the coffin lid, up through the ground and tied to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night and listen in case the corpse was not really dead and was ringing the bell, so guard could save that person from a slow and rather painful death (again!)
Another explanation, which seems to be more probable, is that the expression relates to boxing and that it came into being in the latter half of the 19th century. A boxer who was in danger of losing could be ‘saved’ from defeat by the bell that marked the end of a round.
Raining Cats and Dogs
This is one of my favourite saying, especially because it’s so strange. Why would anyone say this to refer to heavy rain?
It is not exactly certain when the expression come about, but it’s considered to date back to the 16th-17th century, when people didn’t keep their pets in their home, and so they were always kept outside. The animals would keep themselves warm in the little nooks in the thatching on the roofs and hide there for cover on rainy days. When an especially rainy day came along, the animals could actually get washed off of the roof so the story goes that the townsfolk would look out their window, see pets falling from the sky, and proclaim it to be „raining cats and dogs.”
Mad as a hatter
Most of us might connect this to Lewis Carroll’s character from “Alice In Wonderland”, but it seems that in the 18th and 19th centuries most hatters were mad, mainly because they used to treat hats with mercury and inhaling mercury vapors over long periods of time could cause mental illness.
But don’t worry, hats are much safer nowadays!
Kick the bucket
If someone kicks the bucket it means he/she dies, although it’s probably not the most polite way to refer to someone’s passing away.
The expression has a rather ghastly origin. Back in the day, when slaughtering a pig you tied its back legs to a wooden beam (in French it was called a “buquet”). As the animal died it kicked the buquet. Hence the ‘bucket”.
The idiom „red herring” is used to refer to something that misleads or distracts from the relevant or important issue.
In the past, poachers would drag a herring across the ground where they had just walked to throw dogs off their scent. (Herrings were made red by the process of curing).
Sursă foto aici.
Laura Sîrbu este absolventă a Facultăţii de Litere din cadrul Universităţii Bucureşti, specializarea Română – Engleză. Tot în cadrul Universităţii, ea a absolvit masteratul „Studii Americane”, organizat la Facultatea de Limbi şi Literaturi Străine.
Laura deţine autorizaţie de traducător pentru limba engleză şi atestatul lingvistic „Cambridge Proficiency Certificate.”