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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Other side of the coin


This idiom refers to the opposite side or point of view of a situation and usually points out how most things in life can’t be entirely bad or entirely good; at least in most cases. The origin of this idiom isn’t one hundred percent verified, but it is believed that it has been around since the early days of the twentieth century when jurists, usually in order to get the full story, wanted to hear both sides since every story or argument has two sides (if not more).


Show your true colors

Show your true colors

This phrase probably best describes a hypocrite who has been hiding behind false words or actions for a respectable amount of time. When they finally decide to reveal who they really are, and what their true character is, that’s when we say they’ve shown their true colors. The origin of the phrase derives from naval history; a few centuries ago ships used to be identified mainly by the flags or colors they flew to show which country they belonged to.

However, ships owned by pirates would often sail under fake flags from various countries to approach their prey and eventually would show their true colors by hoisting their real flags (aka a pirate flag) once they had conquered the other ship.


Get it out of your system

Get it out of your system

There are times we all want to do or say something that we’ve wanted to for a long time that we know we shouldn’t, or we’re not able to but eventually we can’t stop ourselves any longer from fulfilling that need or desire. Basically, this modern idiom describes our intention to finally get rid of a preoccupation or anxiety that has been eating away at us for quite some time.

The strange thing about this phrase is that despite being amazingly popular (millions of people in many different languages use it daily) it doesn’t have a confirmed origin but is believed to be associated with medicine, particularly with the detoxification of drug addicts in rehab.


Don’t judge a book by its cover


This is the kind of idiom that every wise man or woman should agree with and is about how we shouldn’t judge or make a decision about someone or something based on a brief impression or outward appearance. The phrase goes back to at least the mid-nineteenth century as found in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), where Mr. Tulliver uses the phrase in discussing Daniel Defoe’s The History of the Devil, saying how it was beautifully bound. We come upon the idiom again in a June 1867 article in the Piqua Democrat.


Bite the bullet


“Bite the bullet” has a really painful meaning since it suggests accepting the inevitable unpleasant reality that is waiting for you and enduring the pain with grace. The phrase was first recorded in Rudyard Kipling’s 1891 novel The Light that Failed and its origin derives from the barbaric era before anesthetics were used in medical procedures, when injured soldiers had to bite on a bullet to help them endure the pain of an operation or amputation. Biting a bullet usually resulted in a few broken teeth aside from the pain.

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