Excuse My French: Ten Idioms And Their Strange Origins

Idioms. Loosely defined, an idiom is a “word, phrase or saying that is used, but not interpreted logically or literally.”

I’m a native English speaker and I still get all tangled up in these. (I’m still stuck on “Bob’s your uncle.” I’ll never understand that one!)

Here are a few everyday idioms, their meaning, and origin.

To Turn A Blind Eye

Definition: To purposefully ignore undesirable information

Example: “I can’t believe you can turn a blind eye to the corruption in the world.”

This expression is rumored to have arisen after the English Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, in which naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, is said to have purposely raised his spyglass to his blind eye, thus making sure that he would not see any sign from his commanding officer, giving him option to withdraw from the battle.

On The Ball

Definition: Someone who is sharp, in control, and alert.

Example: “I like the new commissioner, he’s really on the ball!”

This is believed to have originated with sports, however there are a few theories to where it first began. One theory is that “on the ball” refers to runners getting ready for a race, up on the balls of their feet on the starting line. It may also be derived from the earlier expression “keep your eye on the ball” (used in many sports.)

This could possibly have originated from a saying during the early days of baseball. When the pitcher couldn’t get a good pitch, it was said that he had “nothing on the ball.” Therefore the opposite would be “on the ball,” meaning he or she has control of a situation.

Hit The Sack/Hit The Hay

Definition: To go to bed

Example: “I’m so tired after that party, it’s time for me to hit the hay / hit the sack.”

This most likely originated due to the fact that in the late 19th century, mattresses often were made out of old sacks, which were generally stuffed full of hay or straw.

Cut From The Same Cloth

Definition: Similar, of the same nature

Example: “Your father and husband sure are cut from the same cloth!”

This expression is supposedly derived from tailoring. If you’re making a suit, you would want the jacket and pants to be cut from the same piece of material, thus ensuring a perfect match in color, weave, etc. There are many differences that can occur in material from batch to batch, so the only way to ensure a perfect match in fabric is to have the whole outfit cut from the same cloth.

Down To The Wire

Definition: Undecided until the last minute

Example: “That election was really down to the wire!”

This phrase supposedly came from races, such as horse races and foot races, where the winner was determined by whomever crossed the finish line first. A string, tape or paper banner was stretched across the finish line to help the judges see clearly who crossed first in a close race. That banner over the finish line was called the “wire,” and the winner is the one who broke the “wire” first.

Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Definition: Taking on more than you can handle

Example: “I bit off more than I could chew by picking a fight with that guy!”

This idiom dates back to the 1800s, when people chewed tobacco regularly. Sometimes the greedier people would bite off too large of a chunk, which made for the warning, “not to bite off more than you could chew.”

Bite The Bullet

Definition: Deciding to do something hard and get it over with

Example: “I really just need to bite the bullet on this project.”

This idiom is believed to have been derived historically, from the practice of having a patient chew a bullet as a way to cope with the extreme pain of a surgical procedure without anesthesia, however, this is disputed. This may have been done simply as a last resort with battlefield medics, and in the old west where there were few resources. This phrase was first recorded by Rudyard Kipling in his book The Light That Failed.

Riding Shotgun

Definition: Sitting in the front seat

Example: “I’m riding shotgun on the way to the mall!”

When stagecoaches were used as the main means of transport, the seat next to the driver was reserved for an individual holding a firearm, traditionally a shotgun. This front-seat position was strategic for the guard to be able to see and ward off any bandits or animals that would attempt to loot or endanger the passengers riding in the carriage.

Dressed To The Nines

Definition: Dressed very elaborately

Example: “Lets get dressed to the nines and go out tonight.”

This idiom may have originated in one of these two places. One possible origin is that the saying was inspired after the exquisitely crafted uniforms of the 99th infantry regiment of the British army, formed in 1824.

It also may have come from tailoring. When a tailor makes a high quality suit, it uses more fabric. It takes nine yards to make a perfect suit, because a good suit has the fabric cut all the same direction. This causes a great amount of waste, but if you want to show that you’re fancy, you pay for such waste.

Raining Cats And Dogs

Definition: Raining very large, heavy raindrops

Example: “Look outside at those raindrops! It’s raining cats and dogs!”

This strange phrase was first recorded in 1651 in the poet Henry Vaughan’s collection Olor Iscanus. Its origins are left up to speculation, with the ideas ranges from medieval superstition to Norse mythology. The most probable source of the phrase, however, is that dead animals and other debris were sometimes washed up in the streets after heavy rainfall, which could make it appear that it had “rained cats and dogs.”

If you liked this post, be sure to check out part one, Dont Want To Be An American Idiom.

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What Did You Just Say? Fifteen Words And Phrases You May Be Pronouncing Wrong

The English language can be tough sometimes. After all, this is the great melting pot! We have adopted many different words and phrases from our friends in other countries over the years, and we don’t always use them properly! 

Have you ever caught yourself saying “expresso,” or “excetera?”

If so, this list is for you!

 

 1. One In The Same vs. One And The Same

“One in the same” is incorrect. If you are using this phrase to talk about two things that appear to be the exact same, they would be as one. This being said, “One and the same” is correct, and makes much more sense.

2. Acrossed/Acrost vs. Across

It’s easy to get this one confused, wanting to relate the words “crossed” and  “acrossed” makes sense. However, “acrossed” is not a word, the correct form of this word is simply “across.”

3. On Accident vs. By Accident

Things happen by accident, not on accident. These prepositions easily get mixed up, but “By accident” makes more sense, and is the correct wording for this phrase.

4. Artic vs. Arctic

The “c” sound is often left out in the middle of this word. It should be pronounced “arc-tic,” not “art-ic.”

5. Pacific vs. Specific

These are both functional words, however they have completely different meanings. “Pacific” means “peaceful in intent,” or of course, could be referring to the Pacific Ocean. “Specific” means “clearly defined or identified.” You want to ask someone to be more “specific.” Not more “pacific.” (unless you’d like them to be more peaceful, I suppose.)

6. Bob Wire vs. Barbed Wire

Barbed wire has barbs, it is in no way named after someone named Bob (Or Barb Dwyer for that matter). You should hear that “-d” in the pronunciation.

7. Irregardless vs. Regardless

 This word often gets the extra sound added to the front. The word is regardless, not Irregardless. adding “ir”  this would make this a double negative.

8. Old Timers Disease vs. Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is often mispronounced, while it is a disease of the elderly, it’s title is derived from the founder’s own name, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, the German neurologist.

9. A Blessing In The Skies vs. A Blessing In Disguise

I understand where this could have come from, like a blessing from God. However, the phrase is a blessing in disguise. Not a blessing in the sky or from the skies.

10. For All Intensive Purposes vs. For All Intents And Purposes

This has nothing to do with intensive care, or being intense. This phrase means “for every practical sense.” “All intensive purposes” does not make sense. Thankfully for writers, this is an error that grammar check will catch!

11. Expecially vs. Especially

The “s” in this is often switched for an “x”. Although things special are rarely expected, these are two different words. The correct word is “especially.”

 12. Expresso vs. Espresso

Along with the beverage, this word was borrowed from Italy, where the Latin prefix ex- has developed into es-. This word is often mispronounced with the “ex”, however, it is “espresso.”

13. Excape vs. Escape

Three in a row! Another “x” sneaking in where an “s” should be. The proper is “escape.”

14. Excetera vs. Et Cetera

This is a Latin phrase which means “the rest”, often abbreviated “etc.” It is two words, “Et cetera” not Excetera.

15. Supposebly vs. Supposedly

The word “supposedly” means “allegedly, theoretically or purportedly.”  This mispronunciation, “supposebly,” could actually be a word in English, literally meaning “capable of being supposed”. If that is what you want to say, the word is not actually an error!

 Do you struggle with any of these mispronunciations? What are some grammar errors that drive you crazy?

 

50 Words

We all think that we are going to live forever. I disappeared December 3rd, four days before my 25th birthday. I always said I was a good judge of character. I could read people. That’s what I said. Anybody. Everybody. I was never wrong. But I was wrong about him. 

Shortie: 5 Great Words

Happy Weekend! Today, I just wanted to share a few of my favorite words with you.

Suddenly.

Adverb, meaning swiftly, or unexpectedly. This is always a great word, and when you see it in a book, you know something exciting is about to happen. “She was alone in the house, when suddenly…there was a noise in the hallway!”

Asinine.

Adjective, meaning extremely foolish or stupid. I think this is just a fun word to say. Instead of “you’re being dumb” You can say “You are demonstrating extremely asinine behavior.” Its wonderful.

Plethora.

Noun, meaning a large amount of something. Can be used in place of “a lot” and it sounds much more sophisticated. “There is a plethora of laundry to be folded.”

Serendipity.

Noun, good fortune, making a valuable discovery you weren’t looking for. “Its so serendipitous to see you here after all these years!” This word just sounds sweet and happy, no wonder its describing good luck!

Onomatopoeia.

Noun, a word that’s name mimics the sound of the object or action it refers to. For example, the words “bark” and “munch.”

 

What are some of your favorite words?

Don’t Want to be an American Idiom

I am thankful to have been born in the USA for many reasons. Taco bell, the 4th of July, but mostly because I don’t have to struggle through learning English, with its nightmarish rules and expressions, as an adult. English is my native language, and I still struggle with the idioms, after 25 years! What does “Bob’s your uncle” mean, anyway?? Today I wanted to share my five favorite idioms, what they mean, and where they (may have) come from.

When The Sh*t Hits The Fan

Meaning: There will soon be messy consequences

Used in a sentence: “The sh*t is really going to hit the fan when they find out you’re not filing your reports!”

 Where this might have come from…

This idiom is related to, and may be derived from, an old joke. A man in a crowded bar needed to defecate but couldn’t find a bathroom, so he went upstairs and used a hole in the floor. Returning, he found everyone had gone except the bartender, who was cowering behind the bar. When the man asked what had happened, the bartender replied, ‘Where were you when the shit hit the fan?’ [Hugh Rawson, “Wicked Words,” 1989]

This expression alludes to the unmissable effects of poop being thrown in to an electric fan.

The first recorded use of this phrase is in Norman Mailer’s 1948 novel The Naked and the Dead. In this context, the use of shit is referring to problems or difficulties in World War 1, while the image of the rotating fan implies that those problems will be spread around.

Other more polite forms of the phrase include eggs, pie, soup, and “stuff”, ex., “when the egg hit the fan.”

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

 I have always thought this Idiom sounded slightly gross. The meaning of the phrase is basically, “Keep a good lookout, pay attention.”

Used in a sentence: “I lost my keys, so if you could keep your eyes peeled for them, that would be great.”

 Where this might have come from…

Apparently, there have been two versions of this saying used, as early as the mid 1850’s and early 1900’s. One uses the word “peeled,” (as above) the
 other uses the word “skinned.” (keep your eyes skinned) Its undetermined which one was first, but they both have the same idea of taking off the outside of your eye to make sure you are seeing clearly.

It’s possible that the literal peeling or skinning of vegetables or animals in order to open them is where the idea for this phrase comes from.

More Than You Can Shake A Stick At

 What a weird one. But then, aren’t they all? This phrase basically just means “a lot.”

Used in a sentence: “Have you seen that woman’s closet? She has more shoes than you can shake a stick at!”

 Where it may have come from:

One possibility is that it from the counting of farm animals, which could have been done by pointing a stick at each animal in turn. “More that you can shake a stick at” could just imply: “you could wave your counting stick until your arm falls off, and you still wouldn’t reach the end.”

Another idea is that it comes from battle, where it was popular in some cultures to shake a stick at the conquered enemy.

Get Someone’s Goat

 To let someone get your goat just means that they have succeeded in making you annoyed or angry.

Used in a sentence: “Ron’s constant whining really gets my goat.”

 Where it might have come from…

This idiom is said to come from horse racing, and was first used in magazines in the early 1900’s. Horses can be temperamental, and in order to keep their animals calm and relaxed, jockeys often kept a goat as a stable companion
for the horse. Goats don’t get flustered easily, and their presence in the stable had a calming influence on the horse. In order to ensure that a competitor’s horse didn’t perform well in a big race, rival owners sometimes stole the goat the night before the big event! The absence of the goat made the horse moody, and as a result it didn’t perform well in the race. So when you say that someone has got your goat, you are comparing yourself to the horse, who is upset and angry.

Close, But No Cigar

This one I’m sure you’ve heard before! This idiom basically implies “To fall just short of a successful outcome and receive nothing for your efforts.”

Used in a sentence: “We were only one point away from winning last night! So close, but no cigar!!”

 Where this might have come from…

This saying was first heard in the 1935 “Annie Oakley film. There may have been a time in the 20th century where cigars were among the prizes that could be won at carnivals, (however this has not been confirmed.) If this is true, then this could have been a popular phrase at the carnival games, shouted to contestants who came close to winning a prize, but just missed it.

What is your favorite idiom, and what does it mean?