Take a look at some weird sayings in the English language and where they originated

The English language is full of sayings that range from the strange to the truly bizarre, some of them centuries old, others quite modern. The interesting thing about some of these sayings is that their origins are in many cases a mystery. This means that we often have to resort to guessing and creative imagination when there are no definitive traces of the sayings in printed or recorded verifiable form. Here some sayings that I found of interest.

 

1) "Bless You"

This is a commonly used as a saying to someone that has just sneezed. The more complete version would be "God Bless You", but I think bless you is the most commonly used form. Because blessings date back millennia it is difficult to say when this term was first used in conjunction with someone sneezing.

There are several possible origins to this saying, and some of them seem very strange in today's age. The most plausible origin, in my opinion, is that in the Dark and Middle Ages, illnesses like the common cold, flu or the plague were essentially death sentences. As sneezing is often associated with illnesses, and very often an early indicator of worse to come, it would make sense that people in a very religious time would look at blessing each other when they were facing, at the time, a serious ailment.

Another possible origin is probably a bit more superstitious, in that people are said to have believed that their soul could be thrown from their body's leaving them open to invasion by evil spirits.

Whatever you think is more plausible, I think it is safe to say that in today's age it is simply a polite gesture between people.

 

2) "Raining Cats and Dogs"

Generally used to describe very heavy rain, this weird saying has been at the heart of some even weirder speculation about its origin. One such source of speculation was an email that went viral around the world at the turn of the millennium where it was stipulated that cats and dogs would seek shelter in medieval thatched roves. When it would rain very heavily the animals would be "washed" out and hence the saying.

This of course doesn't really make sense as cats and dogs would have to be on the thatch, not under it in order to be washed from it. While medieval construction was not particularly high tech by any stretch of the imagination, thatching was actually quite a good way to insulate a building from rain, so much so, that it is still used today.

To me a more plausible reason for the origin would be in street drainage of medieval times. In the absence of sewerage systems household waste would simply be tipped outside the doors of houses into the street. Dead cats, dogs and other vermin were a common sight, but especially so when particularly heavy rain resulted in dead animals floating down streets, this giving way to the term that it had "rained cats and dogs".

weird sayings Of The English LanguageCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fastphive/

3) "The Short End Of The Stick"

This saying is used to point out that someone got a bad bargain or a bad deal. Most likely this term originated in the England of Charles II in the 17th century. At the time, the way a loan was recorded was through a "tally stick". This was a simple way for people to record debts by way of engraving the amount on a small stick and then breaking the stick in two. The smaller piece would be given to the person making the loan, and the larger piece to the person borrowing the money, or gold at the time. When it came to making payment on the loan only the two original pieces would perfectly fit together.

Charles II borrowed heavily during his reign and spent the lot. When it came to repaying the debt he was unable to do so and simply declared that the debts he had accumulated were illegal. This then gave rise to the term "the short end of the stick", i.e. having received a bad deal.

 

4) "By The Skin Of Your Teeth"

This is a truly bizarre saying that is heard all too often, and has always made me wonder how it came into existence. Its common meaning is narrowly, barely or only just, with an example of use being: "The doors on the train were just closing, but I got on by the skin of my teeth."

What makes this saying so strange is that teeth, of course, do not have any skin, or anything remotely resembling skin. So when did who decide to come up with this term? In the case of this saying there does seem to be a verifiable early appearance in the Geneva Bible of 1560. According to phrases.org this translation of the bible included "I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe."

While it is anybody's guess why this terminology was used, a wild guess would be that the "skin" on teeth is so thin that it can barely be seen and therefore it is a great form of analogy to situations that are very tight or narrow. Another explanation could be that 16th century science actually believed that teeth had skin, and therefore it would not have been quite as weird a saying as it sounds today. Who knows?

 

5) "Rule of Thumb"

This is used in situations where you would make a very rough and ready estimation, not based on any measurement or exact science. An example would be someone mixing ingredients for a cake without weighing scales or measuring cups; they would essentially be using the rule of thumb to come up with the right amount of ingredients.

One of the more notorious origins of this saying is said to come from an 18th century English judge named Sir Francis Buller, who apparently ruled that a man was allowed to castigate his wife with a stick, as long as the stick was no thicker than the man's thumb. While this certainly is a colourful origin, and plausible since men were actually allowed to beat their wives in those days, no one has been successful in finding any evidence that judge Buller actually made such a ruling.

To me the more plausible origin lies in the use of the thumb to make rough measurements, whether it be the temperature of a liquid or as a way to roughly measure short lengths by a tailor or carpenter. A very similar saying is used in the German language "Pi mal Daumen", which translates as "Pi (the number) times thumb", and is used to indicate that a person has made a very rough calculation or measurement.

Weird Sayings Of The English Language(102955)Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00/

 

Image credits: FastPhive, Joelk75