Common Idioms and Phrases: Meanings and Origins

Updated on April 17, 2018
JoyLevine profile image

JoyLevine is an avid linguistics/language arts enthusiast. She grew up with her nose stuck in a book almost every day.

What Is An Idiom?

An idiom is a word or, more commonly, a phrase in which the figurative meaning is different than the literal meaning of the grouping of words. There are approximately 25,000 idioms in the English language alone.

For example, there is a common saying in English. You've probably heard it. If I were to say, "Fred kicked the bucket," what would you think?

Now, you could take this literally, in that Fred actually walked up to and kicked a bucket in his path. However, those familiar with the English language would not take this sentence literally, knowing that this is a common saying or idiom that conveys a different meaning implying that a person has died.

This idiom has a rather dark origin. It came from a reference to someone hanging himself by standing on a bucket and then kicking it away, thus "kicking the bucket."

It is interesting to note that while there are different idioms for each individual language, many languages have equivalent idioms found in their respective languages.

For instance, the phrase "kick the bucket" in English which implies, as we've discussed, that someone has died, can be translated into a phrase that means the equivalent in Ukranian, "to cut the oak" (as in, building a coffin); in German, "to look at the radishes from underneath;" or in Swedish, "to take the sign down," and so on.

Most of us use idioms every day and yet many of us don't know how these same phrases originated. It's very interesting to learn the origins behind the phrases and how they came into existence. As you learn about idioms, you also learn about history, geography and culture. Idioms are usually derived from local culture and customs in each individual language.

So, lets explore some common idioms and phrases and take a look at the meanings and origins behind them.

Source

Loophole

As an idiom, a loophole is defined as a way of getting out of something or escaping a difficulty, especially finding a legal technicality that allows someone to evade compliance.

Where did this term originate from?

A loophole, in the middle ages, was a small slit-like opening in a castle wall that men would fire their bows or musketeers through. The only openings in a seemingly impenetrable wall were these slits which a child or small adult could squeeze through. Thus, a loophole is a small opening, or "out," in a seemingly airtight law, which only the clever few can use.

Source

Red Tape

This is a very common idiom. We use the term "red tape" to denote anything that may delay or hold us up, whatever the process may be. It also refers to a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy or paperwork.

This term originated from the fact that legal and official documents were tied up or bound with red tape since the 16th century. By doing so, it was often difficult to access them. Hence, the term "red tape."

Source

"Break a Leg!"

How many times have we heard someone shout, "Break a leg!" to someone going onstage? This is a phrase that seems to be counter intuitive. Certainly, you don't want someone to actually break their leg onstage. Where did such a saying come into existence?

The phrase was first recorded in print in the early 1900s.

Eric Partridge in his Dictionary of Catchphrases suggests that the term originated as a translation of a similar expression used by German actors: Hals- und Beinbruch (literally, "a broken neck and a broken leg.") The German phrase traces back to early aviators, possibly during World War I, spreading gradually to the German stage and then to British and American theaters.

Why would people twist a wish for dreadful injury into one for good luck? It is suggested that it is a reverse psychology of sorts. Popular folklore down through the ages has been full of warnings against wishing your friends good luck. To do so is was thought superstitiously to tempt evil spirits or demons to do your friend harm. Instead, they would wish their friend bad fortune.

There is also evidence that some have pointed to the stage directions for the opening night of the reconstructed Globe Theater in London which supposedly called for two actors to swing dramatically from a balcony down to the stage on ropes. One of the actors slipped and, you guessed it, broke his leg.

However, this has not been substantiated.

In either case, it has become a common and accepted expression of good luck.

Piece of Cake

We've all heard this one. "Oh, don't worry. That's a piece of cake!" We know this signifies something that is easy, managed with no difficulties. We can do it with our eyes closed.

Where did this idiom originate?

This one's almost self explanatory. What's easier than eating a piece of cake?

The first reference to this was in the 1930s, when American poet Ogden Nash, who wrote Primrose Path, was quoted as saying, "Life's a piece of cake." This sweet idiom has stuck around ever since.

Source

"it's Raining Cats and Dogs!"

Now, this is an interesting one.

This must sound like a very odd expression to someone just hearing it for the first time. There are a lot of things we have seen falling from the sky, but cats and dogs aren't one of them. One has to wonder, how did this expression come about?

It's quite simple, really. It originated in England in the 1500's, when houses had thatched roofs. A thatch roof consisted of straw piled high, with no wood underneath. In cold, foggy England this was sometimes the only place for an animal to get warm. Cats, other small animals and the occasional dog would wind up on the roofs.

When it rained really hard, some of the animals would slip off the roof and wash up in the gutters on the street. Hence, the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs" ended up referring to a particularly heavy rain. Kind of gruesome, isn't it?

A
England:
England, UK

get directions

Source

"Graveyard Shift", "Dead Ringer" and "Saved By The Bell"

Has someone ever informed you that they are working the graveyard shift? Perhaps you have also heard someone refer to a person as a dead ringer? What about when you hear someone say, "Ahhh, saved by the bell!" What do these phrases have in common? These phrases have a very creepy origin, indeed!

For this, too, we go back to England. If you look at a map, you'll see that England is rather small. Therefore, they started running out of places to bury people. What they did in order to solve this problem was to dig up the existing coffins out of the ground and take the bones to a bone house. They would then reuse the grave.

Sounds like a simple enough solution. However, this practice turned up a very eerie and creepy discovery. An average of about one in twenty five coffins that were dug up to be reused were found with horrific scratch marks on the inside, indicating that somehow people were being buried alive!

This obviously was an unsettling find. In order to avoid this happening in the future, they started placing a string on the wrist of the corpse before it went into the coffin. This string would lead through the coffin, and up through the ground and was tied to a bell on the ground. This way, it was thought, if a corpse was indeed not a corpse and still alive, they could ring the bell (or be a dead ringer) and have a chance to be dug up if they were still alive, and thus, saved by the bell. Someone would have to sit outside all night working the graveyard shift and listen for these bells.

In fact, there was so much hype about this for awhile that there were quite an array of devices invented so that the undead could escape their coffins in case they buried prematurely. Some of them were rather simple with spring loaded coffin lids that would open at the slightest movement inside. Others were much more complex in nature even using electrical switches, early dry cells and buzzers.

For clarification purposes, there has been no actual documented case of any person ringing the bell and thus being saved. It must also be pointed out that this explanation is a bit of a controversy. Some disclaim this theory, saying that while the practice of reusing existing coffins did exist, it was a lot less common than reported.

It has been said that the term "graveyard shift" simply came from nautical origins when a person had the night shift on a vessel at sea and that the shift was named such for the extreme quietness and loneliness of the shift.

It has also been reported that the term ringer simply refers to an old devious practice regarding horse racing and betting in which a proven racehorse similar in looks was switched out for an old nag with a bad record in a race securing a long shot bet. A dead ringer referred to an animal that you could not tell apart from the original without closer inspection.

Whatever the case, it is certainly interesting to ponder over. The truth most likely lies somewhere in between, as is the case most of the time.

It is interesting to note that, regarding the origins of "dead ringer," between 1843 and 1913 there was a lot of time and effort put into patenting designs for escape mechanisms built within coffins. Whether this was due more to superstitions or because of actual evidence of people being buried alive, we will probably never know .

Maybe all these theories are true, to one degree or another. As is the case with language in general, perhaps these stories, too, change and evolve over time, encompassing more than one meaning or origin. This is what makes etymology, the study of the history and origin of words along with tracing their developments and meanings, so interesting.

Source

Minding Your P's & Q's

This is a phrase we hear a lot when adults are speaking to children. This is a term that has come to signify that you are taking care, watching what you are doing, getting it right. The origins on this idiom are actually rather simple.

This one dates back to a time when local taverns, pubs and bars served up their patrons drinks by the quart and by the pint. Bar maids had to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. They had to pay special attention to who was drinking pints and who was drinking quarts, thus the term came to be known, "minding your p's and q's."


Source

An Arm and a Leg

"That's going to cost you an arm and a leg!"

This is a common phrase that means simply it's going to cost to the point of sacrifice. It's going to hurt. The price is high.

Where did such a phrase come into existence?

If we step back in time to George Washington's day, we would not see any cameras. For a portrait to be produced, it had to be painted or sculpted.

If you notice old pictures, you will notice something interesting. The paintings may consist of just a person's face. At other times, a person is portrayed with one arm behind their back or both arms may be visible. Interestingly enough, portraits were not charged by the number of people who appeared in the picture, but rather by the number of limbs that were painted.

If they wanted a cheaper painting, then it would "cost them an arm and a leg." Artists knew it took more time and effort since arms, hands and legs were more difficult to paint.

mutton shoulder
mutton shoulder | Source

Cold Shoulder

If someone is said to give us the cold shoulder, this means that they are disregarding, dismissing or otherwise ignoring us and treating us with disrespect. We are not welcome in their presence.

The origin of the term has been disputed over the years. However, one viable theory is that it came from serving an unwanted guest a cold shoulder of mutton that had been sitting out for awhile, as opposed to a nice hot meal like the rest of the guests.

Another theory is that it came from keeping one's back, or at least a shoulder, in between yourself and the unwanted person. In either case, it shows disdain and disregard and the message is clear.

Source

Mind Your Own Bee's Wax

Now, honestly, many may think that this is simply a coined phrase mimicking the more common and literal phrase, "mind your own business."

However, it turns out this has a more defined origin. Apparently, in the days before Stridex and Clearasil, ladies would use a thin layer of bee's wax to smooth their complexion where they had severe acne.

There were actually several phrases that came from this practice. If a lady looked too long or stared at another lady's face, they might say, "Mind your own bee's wax!" If the woman were to smile, it might crack the veneer of bee's wax on her face, thus the phrase, "crack a smile." Also, the phrase "losing face" came from when a girl would sit too close to the fire and the bee's wax would melt.

No wonder the Southern belles are always fanning themselves in those old pictures. On those long hot summer days, their faces could literally melt off!

Source

Gossip

Gossip is a single word defined as something that is said between two or more people, usually derogatory in nature, about someone else.

Although gossip is just one word, it is actually derived from more than one word. Before TV, phones and other media, politicians of old had to depend on feedback to find out what was important to people in their jurisdiction. They did this by sending their assistants out to the local taverns and pubs where most of the people hung out. They would sip some ale, listen to people's conversations, thus learning what was on people's minds and what their concerns were.

They basically were told to "go sip some ale", thus the term "gossip" was coined.

Source

Big Wig

A big wig is generally thought of nowadays to be a person of high repute, a wheeler and dealer, someone prominent.

Back in early days, men and women used to only take baths twice a year (as bad as that sounds). Women would cover their hair so it didn't get as dirty. Men would shave their heads and wear wigs. They couldn't wash their wigs, however, so they would hollow out a loaf of bread, place the wig inside and bake it. This would kill any lice or bugs in the wig. The wig would come out big and fluffy due to the moisture and heat inside the loaf of bread. This is how the term "big wig" came into existence.

Also interesting to note is that the term "to pull the wool over someone's eyes", which we know means trying to fool someone, came into existence because it was referencing pulling a man's wig over his eyes, in effect, blinding him to what you did not want him to see.

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

When we hear someone say, "I heard it straight from the horse's mouth," we know what they mean. It's truth. You cannot contest it. Although being an odd phrase, since horses obviously don't talk, we understand that it means it is something you cannot deny, it's actual fact.

The truth is, horses have always been a prized commodity down through the ages. There were a lot of dishonest people who would try to sell less than quality horses to potential buyers. They would also lie about a horse's age. However, anyone who knew anything about horses knew that you could tell the age by examining the size and shape of the teeth, literally getting the truth straight from the horse's mouth. This is how the phrase later came to mean getting the literal truth.

Source

Heard It Through the Grapevine

This phrase has come to reference something that is heard, unofficially, or indirectly.

This phrase originated at the turn of the century when the telegraph was getting off the ground. Important information was transmitted across country using the telegraph system. The system required thousands of miles of wire to be installed and this wire was held in place several feet above the ground with poles at equal intervals. People thought the wires and poles looked like the strings used to train vines so the telegraph lines became known as "the grapevine".

People then started referring to hearing things "through the grapevine".

Source

Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey

Sailing ships, including war ships and freighters, carried cannons. Cannons fire round iron balls. It was important to keep a steady supply of cannon balls, ready at a moment's notice. However, they were not easy to secure on a moving ship.

The would stack the balls in a square based pyramid with one ball on top resting on four resting on nine, and so on. They would stack the cannon balls in supplies of 30 this way. They would then make a metal plate of iron (called a monkey) with 16 round indentations to hold the cannon balls on the bottom layer.

There was only one problem. Since the balls and the plate were both made of iron and the ship was a very moist environment, the balls would easily rust to the plate, making them difficult to move.

In order to solve this problem, they made them instead out of brass.

However, they didn't realize that brass does not have the same properties that iron does. As it is chilled, it contracts more and it contracts faster. When the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would come right off the monkey.

Thus, it was quite literally, 'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.'


Source

More Interesting Origins

If you like this article, you might also like Famous Misquotes:The Best Lines That Were Never Said. We have all heard the famous quotes. "Beam Me Up, Scotty!" "Let them eat cake!" "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

What do all of these famous quotes have in common? The fact that they were never said at all! To find out more, read the article above.

You might also enjoy learning the fascinating origins behind some simple every day words by reading the article Everyday Etymology: Interesting Origins of Ten Common Words That Might Surprise You.

The Study of Language Is A Lot Of Fun

There are interesting words and phrases all around us. Finding out their origins can prove to be entertaining and quite enjoyable. Even a simple dictionary can reveal volumes.

For instance, the word "welcome", which literally came from a meaning of a willed comer. They were invited and therefore willed to come.

Did you know that the commonly used expression "ok" or "okay" came from an abbreviation meaning "all correct?" The word "scapegoat" came from referencing that in the Bible a goat was symbolically given the sins of the people.

There are a lot of idioms and words out there that have interesting meanings and origins. The next time you hear an interesting term or phrase, do some research and find out where it came from. You may be surprised what you find out.

Source

Calling All Nature/Wildlife & Photography Enthusiasts!

Are you a nature & wildlife enthusiast? Would you like to see some candid shots of the wildlife we share this planet with?

If so, please visit Ofwaterfallsandtrails.net, a nature and wildlife enthusiast blog with articles and photo journals on nature and travel. Here you can learn about salmon hatcheries, where the best place is to find Megaladon teeth (not where you might think), unique ecosystems like the Everglades and more!

Beauty is all around us. You just have to look!

Female Honeybee Gathering Pollen
Female Honeybee Gathering Pollen | Source

© 2013 JoyLevine

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      ANNA 

      2 months ago

      SOME OF THEM WERE VERY WERID

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      3 months ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      "Something's coming down in Denver"... I have heard that is a reference meaning "anything goes" or "anything can happen," metaphorically referencing the weather in Denver and how it changes minute to minute (i.e., it can be 80 degrees F during the day and 30's and snowing at night).

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      3 months ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      "On Pins and needles".... (sorry for the delay in response)... From what I understand, the most likely origin is traced back to England. It was a reference to something uncomfortable, and the feeling was describing the act of recovering from a feeling of numbness, which is one of the most uncomfortable feelings one can endure for those few seconds. Think of getting up after you sat on your leg wrong and it is completely numb, then goes to that horrible hyper nerve sensation of 'pins and needles'.

      I don't have any books dedicated solely to Idioms myself, but there are wonderful references online that I have been fascinated with. For English Idioms, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions by Stanley J. St. Clair is great. For idioms outside the US, Cambridge Dictionary of International Idioms by James Gordon White is very useful.

    • profile image

      Dolores 

      4 months ago

      What does the phrase ' something's coming down in Denver' mean? Where did originate from?

    • profile image

      jiji 

      5 months ago

      what's the origin of "on pins and needles" ? and do you have any book that discusses idioms origins ? i really need it for my research ....

    • profile image

      Theater nut 

      5 months ago

      The phase break a leg stems for the small curtain that is just offstage and goes up and

      Down with the main curtain- it has a small wooden rod at the bottom to holdd

      It taunt- If a show was a performance was really good and the audience kept

      Applauding-the curtain would rise and fall- putting the curtain called a

      Leg to break- thus have a reallt good show= make the audience so excited

      That the curtain goes up and down so often that the baton in the leg breaks

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      6 months ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      That sounds very reasonable as well. In researching, as stated in the article, I found multiple origins for many idioms. I suppose we'll never know for sure exactly where each came from. I happen to think many may have evolved along the way, perhaps starting out as one thing, and being 'adopted,' as it were, for other things along the way where it fit.

      Fascinating!

    • profile image

      Duwayne Jensen 

      6 months ago

      I believe the idiom "Break a leg" came after John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln the leaped away landing on the stage and breaking his leg in the process.

    • profile image

      luis 

      8 months ago

      the idioms are awesome

    • profile image

      Humilonhj 

      10 months ago

      Add more idioms!

    • profile image

      dylan 

      15 months ago

      wow nice!

    • profile image

      Willow McGee 

      17 months ago

      You should add more idioms

    • profile image

      vrinda 

      18 months ago

      very intresting

    • profile image

      Anon 

      19 months ago

      I did hear that 'minding your PCs and q's' was from the days of movable printed type, where letters were inserted manually into the printer, and as letters were mirrored to provide opposite print when applied to paper, one had to mind their P's and Q's.

    • profile image

      Christian Isreal 

      19 months ago

      Im a Student at Wynne Junior High School and this was very useful to help me know what the orgin and meaning of idiom is

    • profile image

      Lisa HOlton 

      21 months ago

      Thanks i have to do this for class

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      2 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      Thanks to all of you for the comments. I apologize, I have had so much going on that I myself haven't been on this website much lately. But perusing around today, I want to change that! Such interesting articles and even more interesting people here. Such a nice community.

      Anyway, :) @ marieyan... Yes, I always love going back and reading things over myself. I think you can always take away something new, new angle, new way of looking at it, etc. Besides, there is an old saying too, repetition for emphasis... but I say, repetition for remembering... because the older I get, the less I recall! :)

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      2 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Hi Joy Levine, I am revisiting hubs I have commented before (2 years ago, in fact!) and, reading your interesting hub again, I noticed your Ps and Qs definition. Of course, that makes so much sense! I had always attributed the "minding your Ps and Qs " to being always dilligent in using "Please" and "Thank (Q)you"! What you learn on a second reading, eh?

    • lidialbuquerque profile image

      lidialbuquerque 

      2 years ago

      Great hub! Informative and interesting!!

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      4 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      Interesting!

    • profile image

      Kitsune 

      4 years ago

      Another origin for the term 'dead ringer' comes from horses. A ringer is a horse that looks identical to another horse. In cases where an expensive and well insured horse was owned. An owner might chose to 'accidentally' on purpose kill the ringer, claiming it as the insured horse (and thus get the insurance money) and then either sell the actual horse, or replace it for the ringer and build the 'ringer's' reputation up with a horse the owner already knows is proven. Mind, this was all before DNA testing.

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      4 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      Thank you for your comment. I always appreciate constructive criticism. And you're right, some of these may or may not be true. This is the reason I stated exactly that in the last paragraph of the article, as you probably read.

      Again, I think the important thing is actively researching a subject to find out answers. One always comes away with something, just as you did in researching it yourself.

      I appreciate the time you took in responding. A different point of view always helps us to learn more and makes us sharper, so I thank you.

    • profile image

      femalegamer 

      4 years ago

      Some of your explanations are flat out wrong, such as raining cats and dogs and mind your p's and q's. As a medieval reenactor, I find the beeswax item dubious - it can be used to smooth bowstrings, but for a complexion it would either be too thin to be useful or too thick to be comfortable; much easier to cover it with white lead makeup! You can find a debunking by the snopes people here of an email that made the rounds at one point: http://www.snopes.com/language/phrases/1500.asp

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      4 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      Thank you for your kind comments. Etymology is a fascinating subject and a favorite of mine. I'm already planning a sequel! :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Fantastic hub, and a joy to read. I did know the origins of a couple of these but not many. I find this a fascinating subject and you presented it well. Look forward to checking your other hubs. Voted up.

    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 

      4 years ago from United States

      "Mind your own beeswax"... first time I've heard of that phrase. Really informative, and detailed. You really did a lot of research on this one. Thanks for posting!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Fun hub to read. Some fascinating lore, like the thing about beeswax, which I never heard about before. I enjoyed reading.

    • profile image

      Poetic Fool 

      4 years ago

      Awesome hub! I've always been fascinated with the origins of certain words and idioms and your hub has satisfied my curiosity on a few of them. Thanks for this fun, entertaining and educational hub!

    • Jalapeno10 profile image

      Jalapeno10 

      4 years ago

      These are great! I am going to start saying mind your p's and q's much more now that I know what it's about, lol. This was very informative and fun to read!

    • profile image

      Kieran Gracie 

      4 years ago

      Great Hub - I really enjoyed reading it. I know it is not exactly an idiom but the phrase "Don't Drink and Drive", which we see constantly displayed on UK motorways, must be very confusing to any foreigner using a literal translation - unfortunately it always makes me laugh, which is not the intention of the notice at all!

      Voted up, interesting and shared. Thank you, Joy.

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 

      4 years ago

      Wow, this was so informative; I had no idea about where most of them came from. :P

    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 

      4 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      I had no idea about the origins of most of these phrases. Definitely a very interesting read, and I learned a lot. Voted up and useful.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 

      4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Great, interesting hub. Well done! Voting up and sharing.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image

      Marilyn L Davis 

      4 years ago from Georgia

      Interesting article. I too value the origin of a word or a phrase, so enjoyed learning the derivation of some of these common, but often misunderstood idioms.

      In your spare time, look up www.idiomsite.com; lists a lot and we'll leave the research up to you since you write about them so well. Voted up.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wow- very interesting. I never knew where any of these phrases originated, so this hub was entertaining. Scary about the graves though-how dreadfully awful! Voted this hub up!

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      4 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      The closest I could come to a true origin of "Who opened the gates?" was that the cities of old (Roman and others) were fortified and protected by great walls. These walls served to protect the city against siege. However, in some rare cases, the city walls were left open, and the opposing armies would stampede through in force. Also, the walls were attacked and if they armies broke through the gates, same thing, they would stampede through in massive numbers. So perhaps this is where the saying comes from.

      I couldn't find anything specific on "Dot your i's and cross your t's" although it sounds like a similar saying like minding your p's and q's. The theory it came from typesetting certainly sounds feasible. Interestingly enough though, the expression "To a T" which means pretty much the same thing, came from an old word that was used precisely the same way... To a Tittle, or To A T. Tittle came from the same latin word as title does. As far as the case of the underwear, lol, yes, I think that's strictly a mother thing.

    • younghopes profile image

      Shadaan Alam 

      4 years ago from India

      It is such an interesting post, i always love to use idioms and phrases in my articles during college time

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      4 years ago from California, United States of America

      Fascinating subject. I often wonder where old sayings come from.

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 

      4 years ago from Japan

      This is very useful too for advances English classes.

    • TDowling profile image

      Thomas Dowling 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Very interesting and thorough Hub! The "dead ringer" and "saved by the bell" gave me the creeps. I'll twice now before I use those idioms again.

      You earned my vote for the Rising Star accolade.

    • ptosis profile image

      ptosis 

      4 years ago from Arizona

      Talking through one's hat = Talking nonsense; especially on a subject that one professes to be knowledgeable about but in fact is ignorant of.

      I believe that came from Joseph Smith who so-called "translated" the Book of Mormon via invisible "seer stones" placed inside his top hat and he stuck his face into it and plenary dictated to Brigham Young.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_plates

    • Demetry profile image

      Demetry 

      4 years ago from Australia

      Great read! Some people at work use some naval based phrases like " she's over the yard arm" when its coffee time :)

    • StryderWriter profile image

      Laura Maynard 

      4 years ago from Lavon, Texas

      Great article. We take for granted a lot of what we say and a lot of what we think we know. The meaning becomes so much clearer when we understand exactly what we are saying and the reasons behind it. These are a couple that come to my mind: "Who opened the gates?" which used to drive me crazy as my father said in when traffic was heavy. He came from a farm and I always assumed it had to do with letting the cattle cross the dirt road. It would be interesting to find it's true origin. Of course now the term is endearing to me. Or "dot your i's and cross your t's" which I'm pretty sure came from typesetting. And finally, do we put "always leave with clean underwear" in this category, or is this just something mothers say to embarrass us?

    • light20 profile image

      Lanao G 

      4 years ago from Ozamiz City, Philippines

      I like this hub. English is not my mother tongue, so i found this useful. Sometimes, when i watched English movies I take note (keep on mind) of the phrases which made me confused (well, i can be idiot sometimes) Most of the times I would think they were idioms, so i try to look for it on the internet. lol.

      nice hub!

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      4 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      I feel like now that I wrote this, I pay attention more to when I speak or say an idiom, or when I hear others use them. And the more I notice, the more I am curious now and do research. I may have to write a follow up on more! :) If any of you that comment have a favorite idiom, and know the origin please list it here for us all to enjoy. Or if you would like to know the origin, I don't mind doing the work. Thanks!

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 

      4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      It's so interesting to hear how idioms came about. I like the one "costs an arm and a leg", how incredible that artists charged more to paint limbs :) Thanks for sharing this fabulous information, I enjoyed reading this hub and learnt quite a lot about how idioms came about. Voted up and shared.

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      4 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      I love finding about origins of the phrases we use everyday in the English language. This was a really interesting article. There are absolutely hundreds of idioms in the English language....and other languages...that are fascinating. The amazing thing is we grow up with these idioms and hardly ever question their origin, as long as we know their meaning.

    • JoyLevine profile imageAUTHOR

      JoyLevine 

      4 years ago from 3rd Rock from the Sun

      Thanks for all the comments. An eye! I like that. lol And I didn't get the phrase in there "let's get down to brass tacks." But I just did research and found out that its origin is up for debate. However, a seemingly plausible theory is that it came from the brass tacks that held a soldier's shoes together. When the shoes wore down to the brass tacks, it was really getting to the bottom (or the parallel, truth) of the matter.

    • profile image

      Benjamin Chege 

      4 years ago

      I like all the idioms and phrases; they are funny, yet real.

    • IslandBites profile image

      IslandBites 

      4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Great hub! In Puerto Rico we say "cuesta un ojo de la cara (an eye)" instead of an arm and a leg. LOL

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      Great analysis of some interesting expressions. Did you include the phrase "let's get down to brass tacks?" There are probably hundreds like this. Interesting hub.

    • eloisekate profile image

      eloise 

      4 years ago from australia

      Very informative and detailed. Great read :)

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)