The meaning of English sayings

Jul 11, 2010
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:D A friend of mine who lives in the US sent me this, I hope you find this interesting.

[FONT=&quot]Subject:[/FONT][FONT=&quot] Where did "**** poor" come from?[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]History time[/FONT][FONT=&quot]
Subject: FW: : Where did "**** poor" come from?[/FONT][FONT=&quot]
Where did "**** poor" come from?

If you're young and hip, this is still interesting......

Us older people need to learn something new every day...

Just to keep the grey matter tuned up.

Where did "**** Poor" come from? Interesting history.

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a

And then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery...

if you had to do this to survive you were "**** Poor".
But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to
buy a pot...

They "didn't have a pot to **** in" and were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water
Isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be.

Here are some facts about the 1500's

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May,

And they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were
starting to smell,
brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water.

The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water,

Then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children.

Last of all the babies.

By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.
Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath.

It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other
small animals
(mice, bugs) lived in the roof.

When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and
fall off the roof..
Hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house.

This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings

Could mess up your nice clean bed.

Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some

That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt.

Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get
In the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help
keep their footing..

As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the
It would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the
Hence: a thresh hold.

(Getting quite an education, aren't you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always
hung over the fire.

Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly
And did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving
In the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day.

Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while.

Hence the rhyme:

"Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special.

When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off.

It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon."

They would cut off a little to share with guests

And would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter.

Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food,
causing lead poisoning death.

This happened most often with tomatoes,
so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status..

Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle,

and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky.
The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of
Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for
They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family
would gather around
and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up.

Hence the custom; "holding a wake."

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places
to bury people.

So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and
reuse the grave.

When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch
marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive.
So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the
coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard
shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be,
"saved by the bell" or was "considered a dead ringer."

And that's the truth.

Now, whoever said history was boring!!!

So get out there and educate someone!
Share these facts with a friend.
Inside every older person is a younger person wondering,
"What the heck happened?"
We'll be friends until we are old and senile.
Then we'll be new friends.

Smile, it gives your face something to do![/FONT][FONT=&quot]


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Yorkshire Cruncher
Mar 21, 2007
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Some more. :)

We've all heard of the term "bite the bullet". This old saying in our day and age means to bear a painful consequence or circumstance, or even to face up to an unpleasant truth! Originally this terms has its root in the civil war before there anaesthetics existed. Soldiers who would undergo an operation were given a bullet to bite in their pain to keep from biting down on their own tongue!

"The bitter end" is a figure of speech that has its origins at sea! Anchor cables for ships were wrapped around posts called "bitts". The last piece of cable was then called "the bitter end". If you let the cable out to the bitter end then there was nothing else you could do because you had reached the end of resources!

A person would say you were "born with a silver spoon in your mouth" in our day and age if you were born into a wealthy family or one of high social status and primarily wouldn't have to work as hard as others would. In the old ages, children who were christened were given a silver spoon out of tradition by their godparents, if these godparents were wealthy enough to afford one that is.

Have you ever punished your children and have them cry as a result but still do the same thing they were punished for? Well these are called "Crocodile Tears", meaning tears of insincerity. This comes from the folklore that suggests crocodiles actually cried after they had killed or eaten a man. However, it would return to eat again!

In the Middle Ages many birds were caught and sold for money. To catch these birds some would use a variety of methods but the easiest one would be to find a bush and beat it until the birds came flying out upon which you would catch them. Some people viewed this method as being unskilled in the trade of catching birds. This is where the term "beating around the bush" came from, although in our day it means hiding or shying away from the truth or main focus of an idea!

Has anyone ever won or succeeded in something so spectacularly that you find yourself saying "they won with flying colours"? This popular saying in our day refers to winning or succeeding in something rather well or extremely better than your counterparts. In the old world, when a fleet won a victory at sea the ships would sail home to their ports with their colours flying proudly in their masts to signify their victory!

Ever heard of a freelance writer, artist, musician, or businessman? In our day this term is given to skilled workers in a field of the workforce that are free to work for anyone who would hire them for their specific skill or trade. In the Middle Ages, soldiers were called "lances" and a "freelance" was a soldier who was literally free to live a regular life or fight for any army that would take them into their ranks.

This figure of speech has its origins in Jewish tradition. When a visitor came to your house unwanted, you would serve them the cold shoulder of mutton during dinner time to let them know they were not invited or welcomed again. In our day giving someone "the cold shoulder" means to ignore them or be indeed cold or distant to them.



Yorkshire Cruncher
Mar 21, 2007
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And a few more.

On a ship the beams are horizontal timbers that stretch across the ship and support the decks. If you are on your beam-ends your ship is leaning at a dangerous angle. In other words you are in a precarious situation.
Originally a pale was an area under the authority of a certain official. In the 14th and 15th centuries the English king ruled Dublin and the surrounding area known as the pale. Anyone 'beyond the pale' was seen as savage and dangerous.
In the 18th century when many men wore wigs, the most important men wore the biggest wigs. Hence today important people are called big wigs.

When pulleys or blocks on sailing ship were pulled so tightly together that they could not be moved any closer together they were said to be chock-a-block.
Before railways were invented goods were often transported by water. Coal was transported by ship from Newcastle to London by sea. It was called sea coal. Taking coals to Newcastle was obviously a pointless exercise.
This phrase comes from a primitive tap called a spile and shive. A shive was a wooden tube at the bottom of a barrel and a spile was a wooden bung. You removed the shive to let liquid flow out and replaced it to stop the flow. The spile was sometimes called a cock. If people were extremely happy and wanted to celebrate they took out the cock and put in on the hoop on the top of the barrel to let the drink flow out freely. So it was cock a hoop. So cock a hoop came to mean ecstatic.
Muskets had a priming pan, which was filled with gunpowder. When flint hit steel it ignited the powder in the pan, which in turn ignited the main charge of gunpowder and fired the musket ball. However sometimes the powder in the pan failed to light the main charge. In that case you had a flash in the pan.
This old saying comes from the Bible. In Ecclesiastes 10:1 the writer says that dead flies give perfume a bad smell (in old versions of the Bible the word for perfume is translated 'ointment').
This is a contraction of the words God be with ye (you).

This comes from cricket. Once a bowler who took three wickets in successive deliveries was given a new hat by his club
The expression to eat humble pie was once to eat umble pie. The umbles were the intestines or less appetising parts of an animal and servants and other lower class people ate them. So if a deer was killed the rich ate venison and those of low status ate umble pie. In time it became corrupted to eat humble pie and came to mean to debase yourself or act with humility.

When slaughtering a pig you tied its back legs to a wooden beam (in French buquet). As the animal died it kicked the buquet.
This phrase comes because guns used to have 3 parts, the lock (the firing mechanism), the stock (the wooden butt of the gun) and the barrel. One couldn’t work without the others.
This saying comes from church organs. Pulling out a stop lets air flow through a pipe and make a sound.

Rack has nothing to do with the torture instrument. It is a modification of 'wrack' which was an alternative way of saying 'wreck'.
Following a law of 1715 if a rowdy group of 12 or more people gathered, a magistrate would read an official statement ordering them to disperse. Anyone who did not, after one hour, could be arrested and punished.
Poachers and other unsavoury characters 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).
This phrase comes from the days when a line was scratched in the ground for a race. The racers would start from the scratch.
This phrase was originally STRAIT laced. The old English word strait meant tight or narrow. In Tudor times buttons were mostly for decoration. Laces were used to hold clothes together. If a woman was STRAIT laced she was prim and proper.
This phrase is believed to be derived from the old words will-ye, nill-ye (or will-he, nill- he) meaning whether you want to or not (or whether he wants to or not).
This old saying comes from horse racing. If a jockey was a long way ahead of his competitors and sure to win the race he could relax and put his hands down at his sides.



Chatter Box
Oct 6, 2005
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Surely, in that instance, the term 'beating around the bush' would relate to the practice where the aristocracy would have the estate workers beat the undergrowth to drive birds into flight for the wealthy to shoot? I believe this practice was called 'beating' and was probably seen in a rather negative light by the people required to do the job who likely had much more important and personally relevant things to do. Linguistic evolution would easily account for the shift from blocking to avoidance.

I'll also add that, if it were simply catching birds for sale then, in my experience, few birds will wait around in a 'bush' long enough, once they've detected a human presence, to require beating to drive them out. But that can vary with the species.

I also find it unlikely that people in history were less figurative/creative and more literal in their speech than they are today, especially given that times were very hard & humour, especially dry or 'black' humour, has been a part of the British cultural 'way' of enduring hardship for as long as our culture can be traced. Not saying that the links are not true, just merely that it seems likely that such comments as "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater' (for example) were likely made with as much humorous and tounge in cheek intent, and double meaning, then as they are now. Not because they were actually paying so little attention that they might seriously lose their baby in the bath, however dirty the water was.

I've loved the study of linguistics ever since I discovered it back at highschool and these are just my thoughts.


Sep 30, 2005
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As mad as a hatter


Completely mad. This is now commonly understood to mean crazy, although the original meaning is unclear and may have meant annoyed.

Mercury used to be used in the making of hats. This was known to have affected the nervous systems of hatters, causing them to tremble and appear insane. A neurotoxicologist correspondent informs me that "Mercury exposure can cause aggressiveness, mood swings, and anti-social behaviour.", so that derivation is certainly plausible - although there's only that circumstantial evidence to support it.
The use of mercury compounds in 19th century hat making and the resulting effects are well-established - mercury poisoning is still known today as 'Mad Hatter's disease'.

Another possible explanation is from New Zealand, in the name hatter that was given to miners who work alone. Writing in 1889, E. Wakefield, in New Zealand after 50 Years:
"Miners who work alone are called 'hatters', one explanation of the term being that they frequently go mad from the solitude of their claim away in the bush, exemplifying the proverb 'As mad as a hatter'."
That's more than fifty years after the first printed and so seems unlikely to be the origin. It's more likely that antipodean miners were called hatters because they were mad than the other way about.




Yorkshire Cruncher
Mar 21, 2007
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Sleep Tight

Many years ago beds often did not have boards to support the mattress (if indeed you had a mattress) but used ropes instead. Over time the ropes would slacken and the mattress would sag. The ropes then had to be tightened, hence the term "sleep tight", or more comfortably. :)

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