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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Get up on the wrong side of the bed


It happens to all of us once in a while, especially when we know at bedtime that we have to get up and pay all the bills, including the dreaded rent, the next morning. It’s not exactly the way any of us want to start our day. But you’re probably wondering how we ended up with this idiom. Well, in ancient Rome, getting out of bed on the left side was considered a bad sign and plain bad luck and if you made that mistake your day was destined to be a very bad one.


Skeleton in the closet


In nineteenth-century England, the periodical The Eclectic Review used this idiom in reference to a family who desperately tried to keep a son’s illness secret by hiding him in the closet quite often, especially when guests visited. This is how this idiom got its start, and today we use it to refer to when someone tries to hide a big secret out of embarrassment and shame.


Bite off more than you can chew


If someone bites off more than he can chew, it means that he has agreed to do more than he can manage. But how did we end up with such an apt idiom? “To bite off more than one can chew” dates back to nineteenth-century America, where it was common practice to chew tobacco. People would offer others a bite of their tobacco block, and some would greedily take a bite larger than they could possibly chew. People began to notice this and forewarned others not to bite off more than they could chew. Brilliant, no?


Wrong end of the stick

wrong end of thr stick

If you had the rotten luck (like I had, for example) to have a cruel teacher in high school who didn’t like you very much and unfortunately happened to love this idiom a little too much, then you’ve probably heard this phrase repeatedly every time you supposedly didn’t understand a situation correctly. As for its origin, this is another case where we have to be grateful to the Romans.

Back in ancient Rome people didn’t have toilet paper so they had to use a sponge on a stick every time they had to clean themselves after going number two. However, if someone wasn’t being careful when using the stick, they could pick it up by the wrong end and I’m sure you don’t need any more details beyond this point, right? Ewwwww.


Cut me some slack

Cut some slack

This idiom is about giving a person some freedom in the way they act and respond to situations. It is believed to be nautical in origin, and concerns not pulling on the rope so as to give the other person a chance to untangle it. However, it is a phrase that’s used in a broader sense, and is roughly equivalent to “Give me a break.”

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