25 Common Sayings And Where They Came From

Posted by on October 8, 2012

Have you ever thought about the expressions people use on a daily basis and wonder how they became such a widespread part of the English language? Well, I can assure you that I have. The one that recently piqued my interest is “kick the bucket.” As I heard those words escape someone’s lips, I thought to myself, “What on earth does a bucket have to do with death?” If you’re just as neurotic as I am, have any interest in these sayings and their histories, or just realized “kick the bucket” really is an odd saying and you’d like to figure out the history behind it, then this list of 25 common sayings and where they came from is the list for you. I hope it doesn’t “rub you the wrong way.”


10

No Spring Chicken

Meaning: Someone who is past his prime
History: New England chicken farmers generally sold chickens in the spring, so the chickens born in the springtime yielded better earnings than the chickens that survived the winter. Sometimes, farmers tried to sell old birds for the price of a new spring chicken. Clever buyers complained that the fowl was “no spring chicken,” and the term came to represent anyone past their prime.

9

Pleased as Punch

Meaning: To be very happy
History: A 17th century puppet show for children called Punch and Judy featured a puppet named Punch who always killed people. The act of killing brought him pleasure, so he felt pleased with himself afterwards.

8

Rub the Wrong Way

Meaning: To irritate, bother, or annoy someone
History: In colonial America, servants were required to wet-rub and dry-rub the oak-board floors each week. Doing it against the grain caused streaks to form, making the wood look awful and irritating the homeowner.

7

Rule of Thumb

Meaning: A common, ubiquitous benchmark
History: Legend has it that 17th century English Judge Sir Francis Buller ruled it was permissible for a husband to beat his wife with a stick, given that the stick was no wider than his thumb.

6

Run Amok

Meaning: Go crazy
History: Comes from the Malaysian word amoq, which describes the behavior of tribesmen who, under the influence of opium, became wild, rampaging mobs that attacked anybody in their path.



5

Saved by the Bell

Meaning: Rescued from an unwanted situation
History: As scary as it sounds, being buried alive was once a common occurrence. People who feared succumbing to such a fate were buried in special coffins that connected to a bell above ground. At night, guards listened for any bells in case they had to dig up a living person and save them “by the bell.”

4

Show Your True Colors

Meaning: To reveal one’s true nature
History: Warships used to fly multiple flags to confuse their enemies. However, the rules of warfare stated that a ship had to hoist its true flag before firing and hence, display its country’s true colors.

3

Sleep Tight

Meaning: Sleep well
History: During Shakespeare’s time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. In order to make the bed firmer, one had to pull the ropes to tighten the mattress.

2

Spill the Beans

Meaning: To reveal a secret
History: In Ancient Greece, beans were used to vote for candidates entering various organizations. One container for each candidate was set out before the group members, who would place a white bean in the container if they approved of the candidate and a black bean if they did not. Sometimes a clumsy voter would accidentally knock over the jar, revealing all of the beans and allowing everyone to see the otherwise confidential votes.

1

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

Meaning: Waking up in a bad mood
History: The left side of the body or anything having to do with the left was often associated considered sinister. To ward off evil, innkeepers made sure the left side of the bed was pushed against a wall, so guests had no other option but to get up on the right side of the bed.