25 Startling Origins Of Popular Idioms

Posted by , Updated on December 17, 2014


Without them the English language wouldn’t be as colorful and vivid as it is in many instances. An idiom can often successfully express a complicated idea than a hundred words can. We use them in our everyday conversations but how many of us know the origin or even the original meaning of some of the most popular idioms we use? Ironically even the term idiom isn’t an English word but derives from the Greek for “one of a kind.” Before we give too much information and ruin it for you, here are 25 widely used and popular idioms accompanied by their meaning and origin. It’s time to learn and know what we’re talkin’ about, right?

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The best of both worlds

The best of both worlds

The phrase “the best of both worlds” refers to an item or situation that offers the benefits of two disparate or competing items or situations, often without presenting the undesirable aspects of either. To make a long story short, it means that you can enjoy two different opportunities at the same time. Even though the exact origins of the term are unconfirmed, the phrase has been a part of English since at least the late 1800s. It is believed to have derived from the saying “the best of all possible worlds,” which was used in Voltaire’s novella Candide, published in 1759, but the modern definition of the idiom usually compares only two situations as opposed to the broader comparison implied by Voltaire.


Break a leg

Break a leg

This really weird-sounding idiom is mainly used when you want to wish someone good luck and it was first used by stage actors who were known for being very superstitious. Although there are many different theories about the origin of “break a leg” and no one can be one hundred percent sure, the most accepted theory today suggests that “break a leg” was heard for the first time in British theater circles back in the 1920s.


Feeling under the weather


To be “under the weather” is to be ill or to feel unwell. Originally it meant to feel seasick or to be adversely affected by bad weather and as you’ve probably guessed by now this idiom has a maritime source. In the old days, when a sailor was unwell he was sent down below deck to recover, away from the weather, something that is verified in Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey.


My ears are burning

ears burning

In many countries and different cultures a burning sensation in the ears supposedly means that a person is being talked about by others. The origin of this belief goes back to Roman times when augurs, religious officials who observed natural signs, paid particular attention to such things. According to the augurs, if your left ear burned, it was a sign of bad intentions by the ones who were talking about you, but if your right ear burned, then you should be happy because you were being praised.


Raining cats and dogs


If you ever happen to be around older people for some reason and it’s raining heavily then there’s a very good a chance you’ll hear this idiom. You will probably wonder why the sky would ever rain cats and dogs of all things but if you were into Norse mythology then you would know that cats were the symbol of heavy rain, while dogs were directly connected with Odin, the ruler of Asgard and storm god, and therefore represented howling wind. I think you get the point by now, right?

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