As You May Recall,
I have something of a fascination with Idioms. You know, those expressions that are near ancient in origin, which we toss out often enough to assure their permanence in the rhelms of common language. And yet, when we take a moment to think about what it is we’re actually saying, uh well, What actually are we saying?
For starters, just how guilty are you of Letting the Cat out of the Bag? I know I’ve done it more times than I care to publicly admit. Or, maybe not, considering the true meaning of this odd little phrase. Let the Cat out of the Bag: Possibly related to the fact that in England in the Middle Ages, piglets were usually sold in bags at markets. Sometimes, someone would try to cheat a buyer by putting a cat in one of the bags instead of a piglet. And if someone let the cat out of the bag, the fraudster’s secret was revealed.
And when was the last time your mother, husband, or BFF had to corner you with this particular admonishment: Get off Your High Horse: Medieval soldiers and political leaders bolstered their claims to supremacy by appearing in public in the full regalia of power, and mounted on large and expensive horses, thus presening themselves as larger than life. The combination of the imagery of being high off the ground when mounted on a great war charger, looking down one’s nose at the common herd, and also being a holder of high office made it intuitive for the term ‘on one’s high horse’ to come to mean ‘superior and untouchable.’
Is it possible that a little Moderation might be just the thing to keep the dog hair off your tongue: Hair of the dog is a colloquial expression in the English language predominantly used to refer to alcohol that is consumed with the aim of lessening the effects of a hangover. The expression originally referred to a method of treatment of a rabid dog bite by placing hair from the dog in the bite wound. The use of the phrase as a metaphor for a hangover treatment dates back to the time of William Shakespeare, when it was a popular belief that “a few hairs of the dog that bit you applied to the wound will prevent evil consequences.” Applied to drinks, it means, if overnight you have indulged too freely, take a glass of the same wine within 24 hours to soothe the nerves. “If this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail the next day.”
As a kid I thought this sounded like a fun idea, but only because I believed real animals were involved: The term Kangaroo Court may have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849. The first recorded use is from 1853 in a Texas context. It comes from the notion of justice proceeding “by leaps”, like a kangaroo. The phrase is considered an Americanism.
Sadly familiar because it’s practiced so often: Lying through your teeth: This also may be an expression describing the act of lying with a smile or other patronizing tone or body language. It is very old, traceable to the early 1300’s.
So, what’s the most oft used idiom in your language closet? Do you know what it really means, or do simply enjoy it for it’s familiarity and the fact that regardless of true meaning everyone tends to “get it” when you say it?