If you’ve ever read any of my books, you know I use a lot of common phrases. Some I grew up with, having heard my parents or other relatives say so I tend to use them because they’re as natural as breathing. I think they add a lot of flavor to my stories. I sure hope so anyway.
A lot of these go back a very long way. I hope you have fun learning the origins.
IN TALL COTTON – Means successful. Goes back to 1800s. Crops were good and the farmer flush
CAN’T WIN FOR LOSING – 1960s… bad luck keeps showing up to ruin plans
SLEEP TIGHT – In middle ages and later before bed springs, the mattress sat on a latticework of ropes. To keep the mattress from sagging, the sleeper had to keep tightening the ropes.
TOOTH AND NAIL – Fight like a wild beast – with teeth and nails – 1500s origin
HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD – To describe exactly what’s causing the situation or problem
BY AND LARGE – 16th century nautical term – sailing into the wind—means all things considered
RUNNING AMOK – 18th century, wild or erratic behavior
READ THE RIOT ACT – in 18th century England, the Riot Act was a very real document. It was recited to crowds of 12 people or more then the official ordered them to disperse and go home
DIEHARD – Originated in 1700s, describing condemned men struggling the longest when hung
TURN A BLIND EYE – Dates back to Horatio Nelson who held a telescope to his bad eye and proclaimed he couldn’t see a thing
GETTING OFF SCOT-FREE – Originated in Medieval England when a scot was a word for tax. A person who gets off scot free gets away with things.
BURY THE HATCHET – During peace negotiations in early America, the Puritans and Native Americans would bury all the weapons. Now it means to make peace.
BIG WIGS – In old England, the more influential people had the biggest wigs
ONE FOR THE ROAD – During the middle ages, the condemned were taken to their execution down Oxford Street. The cart would stop and they’d give the person a final drink.
GIVE THE COLD SHOULDER – During medieval times in England, the host would cut off a piece of meat from the shoulder and give to guests he wanted to leave.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR – Originated in late 1800s carnival games that used to be targeted to adults, not children. The prizes were cigars instead of stuffed toys.
WAKING UP ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE SIDE OF THE BED – Throughout history the left was considered evil. To keep guests from getting out on the left side, the bed was pushed against the wall so the sleepers had to both get out on the right side. Today it means to start the day in a bad temper.
GET ONE’S GOAT – Means to irritate someone. In horse racing, placing a goat in with a racehorse calmed it down. Rivals would steal the goat in hopes of upsetting the horse and winning the race.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these. There are tons more and probably 60 percent go back to the middle ages and earlier.
What ones surprised you the most? I think for me it’s Read the Riot Act and Get One’s Goat.