Say What? 

Do you ever wonder why we say the things we do?  Not necessarily the open-mouth-insert-foot class of speech, but rather, idioms.  Those oh-so-familiar and oft used expressions that have been around so long and are such a part of everyday speech, yet, in many cases we haven’t a clue where they came from.

Sure, we generally know what someone is getting at when we hear these phrases, but do we really know what they mean? And then there’s the question of what these ancient nuggets are doing sitting smack in the midst of  our modern language.  Yes, there are any variety of nuances being added to our common tongue on a regular basis, but who’s to say what their actual lifespan will be?

It’s those expressions that have held on for decades, and in many cases centuries, that fascinate.  Consider the fact that so much of what we say doesn’t necessary make a lot of sense by definition, and yet we continue to use these phrases simply because they are so effective for expressing whatever it is we’re getting at.

Kicked the Bucket

We’ve all said or heard this one. And there’s no guessing over the implication when we receive the news that someone has Kicked the Bucket, but seriously?  What the heck does death have to with kicking buckets? And will such an action actually kill you?  A common theory is that this idiom comes from a method of execution such as hanging, or perhaps suicide, in the Middle Ages. A noose is tied around the neck while standing on an overturned bucket. When the pail is kicked away, the victim is hanged. Okay, so that would make plenty of sense in The Middle Ages!  But now?  Not so much.

The Apple of One’s Eye

A very nice thing to be back in the time when it was written, and still revelent today. A perfectly charming sentiment that comes from the Holy Bible, Psalms, 17:8

Need That Like a Hole in The Head?

Nope?  Well neither do I, considering  that the meaning is, Something so ridiculous that I definitely don’t want it. ( The expression originated as slang in the 1940′s.)


And asking screaming at someone to Pipe Down takes on a whole new meaning when you consider that the expression is rooted from the high seas back when boats had to blow whistles to send signals. The signals could mean “turn in” and “lights out.

Tempest in a Teapot

Tempest in a teapot, which dates back to the 1st Century BC, is an idiom meaning a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion.  (Who even knew they were making tea in teapots back in the 1st century! Yes, well, I get it, many of you DID know that, but it’s news to me.)

Raining Cat’s and Dogs

There are several guesses as to how this one came about, but none more bizarre then this (which of  course explains why it’s the the one I chose to repeat here.) Nobody knows for certain where the phrase ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ comes from, though one possibility is that it originates from the 17th century in England when heavy rains would cause debris of all kinds, including animals, to wash out of the gutters. Eweeee …

And a word to the wise, A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

 The stitch in time is simply the sewing up of a small hole in a piece of material and so saving the need for more stitching at a later date, when the hole has become large. Clearly, the first users of this expression were referring to saving nine stitches. Well, heck, you see,  that’s just common sense, isn’t it?

To be continued in next weeks installment of, Idioms for Dummies 🙂

We use them. We might even love them. So what are some of your favorites?


15 thoughts on “PIPE DOWN, WILL YA!

  1. Pingback: Bookstores are Closing & Amazon is Expanding–Want a Sure Bet in an Uncertain Future? « Kristen Lamb's Blog

  2. I always thought it was, “I need ______ like ANOTHER hole in my head”, and I guess I always thought it meant that because I already have the complete set of holes that most of us are born with, I didn’t need someone to, say, shoot me and give me another one. Or I could be just making stuff up…

    • Lol, you’ve hit on one of the most convenient aspects of classic idioms. In that you can so easily add your own little twist and yet the original meaning remains intact. In essence, no matter how you say it, Liv, you definitely don’t need (or want!) another hole in the head!

  3. *smiling*!

    I love old “mountain sayings” – even if I’ve made them up *laughing* . . . dang, now that I want to tell one, I can’t think of it — ungh — pig in a poke! there’s one – pig in a poke – when you buy something without knowing the quality is pretty much what it means 😀

    • Omg, yes! My mother grew up in W.VA and as kids her “mountain sayings” cracked us up. Well, unless she “Had a bone to pick” with one of us. That was never a good thing, *laughing now, but not so much then.*

  4. I, too, like to know the origins of these kinds of sayings. One I’ve often wondered about is “I’ve got ___ stuck in my craw.” What exactly is a craw? And why would something get stuck there? These are things that occupy my mind when it wanders… Thanks for sharing!

    • The dictionary defines craw as “the “CROP of a bird or insect.” Perfect, so then what the heck is a crop? Lol. Funniest thing of all is that even without knowing this little technicality of Craw/Crop, we nevertheless use and understand this idiom to make a point, and everyone understands what we’re getting at. Gotta love it!

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