Take A Look At The Surprising Origins of 7 English Idioms That We Use Almost Everyday!
Ever wondered why “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and who decided it was okay to let “your freak flag fly”? Though idioms often sound weird, they’ve become such a common feature of our daily conversations that most of us never stop to think where they may have come from.
Their origin stories might just surprise you.
1. Cat Got Your Tongue?
This line, often recited with a smirk, is used when someone is at a loss for words.
Surprisingly, it has nothing do with cats. In the English navy, wrongdoers were punished by flogging, with a whip known as a cat-o’-nine-tails. The pain was so bad that it caused its victims to go mute. Yelling, “Cat got your tongue?” was a way of taunting them.
2. On Cloud Nine
According to the classifications of clouds, defined by the US Weather Bureau in the 1950s, “Cloud Nine” is a fluffy, cumulonimbus type of cloud. It is considered to be the most attractive cloud, which gives the phrase its positive connotation.
Another theory states that “Cloud Nine” is a stage of enlightenment in Buddhism.
3. Shedding Crocodile Tears
The expression references someone who is pretending to cry or be upset.
The idea comes from an ancient story that claimed that crocodiles cry to strategically lure their prey closer to them. When the prey gets closer, the crocodiles drop the act and pounce on their prey.
4. Paint The Town Red
It’s only natural that the idiom that’s become synonymous for a wild night out owes its origin to one legendary night of drunkenness. In 1837, the mischievous Marquis of Waterford led a group of friends on a drinking spree that culminated in vandalism. They also literally painted a tollgate, the doors of several homes and a swan statue in the town with red paint, inspiring the phrase.
5. Let The Cat Out Of The Bag
Meaning to reveal a secret, the idiom finds its roots in a 18th-century suckling pig scam. See these wee piggies were often sold in bags, and it became popular for thieves to replace the pig with a cat and sell it to an unwitting victim. Letting the “cat out” was the discovery of the scam.
6. Can’t Hold A Candle To…
When you say someone or something “can’t hold a candle to so and so”, it means they are not as good as that other person or thing. The idiom finds its origins in the time before the invention of electricity, when people doing mechanical jobs needed a second set of hands to hold a candle so that they could see what they were doing. Holding a candle was clearly a less challenging job, so someone who wasn’t even able to do that would obviously not be able to perform the task himself.
7. Once In A Blue Moon
Some say that a blue moon is the second full moon in a single calendar month, and it’s a really rare phenomenon, which explains why the phrase is used colloquially to refer to something that doesn’t happen very often.
So there you have it!
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