10 Common English Phrases And Where They Actually Came From

Suruchi Patwary , 15 Dec 2018
Bite The Bullet by Constantin Stanciu | www.shutterstock.com
Bite The Bullet by Constantin Stanciu | www.shutterstock.com

There are a dime a dozen phrases and idioms we use on a daily basis (see what I did there?) While we know what they mean and how they are used in a sentence, many of us are not aware of how and when they came into existence in the first place. Like, who even thought of using an idiom to describe something and why? Well, you know we’ve always got you covered, so here are the stories about where these common English phrases came from.

1. Raining Cats & Dogs


In the earlier times, houses had thatched roofs under which cats and dogs would take shelter. But when it rained heavily, the animals used to get washed out of these thatches. To avoid this, the animals then started rapidly rushing out of the shelters as and when it rained. Hence, the idiom was born!

2. Powder My Nose


It might sound a little weird, but it has nothing to do with drugs. Back in the days, the ladies restrooms were known as ‘powder rooms’. Reason being, women did not want to reveal their reason for visiting the restrooms, which was for a makeup touch up, so they’d instead say ‘I am going to powder my nose’.

3. Pass The Buck


This originated from a card game ritual that was practised earlier. A marker, called a buck, was placed in front of the person who was the dealer. The marker was then passed on to change the dealer from one person to another. This was called as passing the buck.

4. Bring Home The Bacon


This idiom has been around since the 20th century and was used by the working class. Bacon was the staple food for the said class and this idiom meant bringing home money.

5. Cold Shoulder


Earlier, visitors who were welcome in a home were given hot meals whereas those who weren’t welcome were only offered a cold shoulder of mutton! This act of ignorance was later termed as an expression for the same.

6. Dressed To The Nines


This one’s a little twisty and uber funny. So, it is suggested that the original phrase was ‘Dressed to the eyes’ but considering the old English language at that point, it was written as ‘Dressed to then eyne’. The story goes that someone at that point misheard ‘then eyne’ as ‘the nine’ or ‘the nines’. Not sure how true that is but sounds like a fun story!

7. Bite The Bullet


It is believed to be derived from the time when surgeries did not involve anaesthesia. The patients used to clinch a bullet between their teeth to cope with the pain of the surgical procedure.

8. Cat Got Your Tongue


There are two possible stories about the origin of this idiom. First, the English navy used a whip called ‘Cat-o’-nine-tails’ for lashing. The extreme pain by this whip caused the victim to stay mum for a long time.

9. Let Your Hair Down


This idiom dates back to the 17th century. Women at that time were expected to always wear their hair up either pinned up to their head, in a bun or in sophisticated styles. The only time they could ‘let their hair down’ was either while brushing, washing or when they were alone at home and relaxed.

10. Straight From The Horse’s Mouth


In the 1900s, horse buyers had a unique technique of determining a horse’s age. That was by examining the horse’s teeth. How cool is that?
The next time you use them, you can add these facts to blow everyone’s minds and get yourself some pat on the back!

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