The English language is full of weird and wonderful phrases, sayings and expressions. Some old fashioned expressions have been floating around for so long that we pepper them into our everyday conversations without ever really thinking about what they mean – and if they ever had any negative connotations. Here are the origins of some of the most popular expressions:
The Origins Of Popular Expressions
‘Cat Got Your Tongue’
Modern Definition: something you say to someone when you are annoyed because they will not speak, via Cambridge Dictionary.
Origin: The English Navy used to use a whip made with multiple rope endings called a ‘cat’o’-nine-tails’. After whipping a victim, they’d joke “cat got your tongue?” Others believe the expression comes from the Ancient Egyptian method of cutting out the tongues of blasphemers and serving them to cats for dinner – via Phrases.org.uk.
‘Rule Of Thumb’
Modern Definition: a practical and approximate way of doing or measuring something, via Cambridge Dictionary.
Origin: In the 1700s, UK man Sir Francis Buller ruled that a man could beat his wife with a stick as long as it was no wider than his thumb. Depressing stuff, via News.com.au.
‘Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth’
Modern Definition: Don’t question the value of a gift, via Dictionary.com
Origin: People used to determine a horse’s age and condition by its teeth before deciding to buy it, via Grammarist.
‘Give A Cold Shoulder’
Modern Definition: to intentionally ignore someone or treat someone in an unfriendly way, via Cambridge Dictionary.
Origin: According to News.com.au, when a British dinner party host wanted his guests to leave, they would quite literally serve a cold cut of crappy meat, usually mutton.
‘Raining Cats and Dogs’
Modern Definition: raining extremely hard.
Origin: There are multiple theories associated with this expression. One comes from Norse mythology, in which cats would symbolise heavy rains and dogs were associated with Odin, the God of storms.
This article was originally published in October 2020.