Hair of the Dog

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?

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7 thoughts on “Hair of the Dog

  1. Interesting and amusing! I’ve used a few of these expressions, but never the “Hair of the Dog.” I do like the “Let the Cat out of the Bag” line. Now I will chuckle everytime I hear it, knowing the backstory. Thanks for a delightful post.

    • Thank you for popping over, Janice. It’s funny how many of these oldie expressions have become so generic we don’t even know why, what, or how they arrived in existence. Regardless, they work, we understand what we’re getting at, and they’re here to stay 🙂

  2. Dang, now that you’ve asked me, I can’t think of a one — but I do love language and “old sayings” and how we came to say them — I like it when they morph beyond what they were meant to be too -like when people mix up the words and the saying goes wonky but people use it all the same!

  3. Lol, Wonky, now there’s a great word! Some of the new sayings creeping into our modern day lingo are gems now, but I wonder if they will have the longevity of these classics. It’s hard to imagine that some of these oldie sayings are hundreds and hundreds of years old and yet continue to fit so well on the tongue.

  4. Pingback: Mash-Up: Saturday Sampling of Posts Worthy of Notice « JaniceHeck

  5. Hair of the dog was one that I heard quite often in college. For obvious reasons. 🙂 Lying through your teeth is sadly one I use when refering to the the vile insurance companies I have to deal with in order to get kids the mental health services they need. I love learning about idioms and I love reading your posts about them! It’s fascinating to me how so many of them have enduring over so many decades and centuries.

    • I’m definitely with you on the truth that Lying through Your Teeth is a good and necessary evil on occasion, particularly when used to achieve a noble purpose (or getting out of hot water–that can be plenty good and necessary too!) Hair of the Dog is one of those completely nonsensical expressions — well, ridiculous until you come to know the magical powers of Dog Hair, LOL!

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