Have you ever thought about the short sayings people use and wonder how they became part of the English language? The one that recently piqued my interest is “kick the bucket.” As I heard this saying 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meaning: Go crazy
History: This short saying 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.