Have you ever wondered where the idioms we use come from? We hear them often and even use them ourselves but how did they originate? Like, “Old Goat.” Why are people with less than desirable dispositions referred to as old goats when they reach a certain stage in life? And, “Old Fart” this one always alluded me, until I stood behind.
Have you ever wondered where the idioms we use come from? We hear them often and even use them ourselves but how did they originate? Like, “Old Goat.” Why are people with less than desirable dispositions referred to as old goats when they reach a certain stage in life? And, “Old Fart” this one always alluded me, until I stood behind and a few steps down from an old man on an escalator. I don’t know what the actual explanation for this one is but, I know mine. What about, “On the wagon.” If you stop drinking why are you on the wagon, where is it going, and when do you get off? It reminds me of a game….If you stop drinking you can get on the wagon but if you fall off, you can have a drink. Below are a few idioms I was able to find the originating meanings to.
Cut the Mustard:
This saying actually refers to the zest or zip of mustard. Someone who can no longer cut the mustard has lost his zip.
Balls to the wall:
Although I know you can come up with a colourful meaning that needs no explanation from me for this one, the real meaning of the phrase comes from old fighter planes. The balls were the knobs on the throttle controls and when the pilot gave full throttle, the knobs were pushed all the way toward the wall of the cockpit.
The Full Monty:
Sir Montague Burton (not Monty Python) who was a tailor by trade, was known in his business for his made to order men’s three piece dress suits complete with waistcoat. It is said that repeat customers would explain their suit of choice by simply asking for the “Full Monty.”
Dead as a door nail:
At one time nails were salvaged for reuse when buildings were torn down. The door nail was driven right through and then bent over at the end. This way it couldn’t work it’s way out from the continuous opening and closing of the door. Door nails were never salvageable and were considered to be “dead.”
Freeze the balls off a brass monkey:
Nope! It’s not a brass door knocker on a cold winter’s day. Cannon balls used to be piled pyramid style on a low wooden triangle shaped platform. It was made with a lip of about 2 inches which held the bottom balls from rolling off. This platform was called a monkey. The wood wore out easily so brass platforms were devised. They were far more sturdy but, in very cold weather the brass would freeze. This would cause the metal to contract squeezing the bottom layer of balls up and out of place sending the balls scattering in the ground. (Young boys who carried and set the powder for cannons were called Powder Monkeys)
This is an old gambling expression used in horse racing. Shady horse owners would have two horses who looked enough alike to be mistaken for one another. One horse was slow and the other horse was fast. The slow horse would was run enough times for people to lose interest in betting on them. Once the odds were at a desired level, they would switch to the fast horse called the ringer. Dead meant a dead shot or dead stop. Hence, the name Dead Ringer.
A perfect toss in the game of horse shoes. The horse shoe hits and spins around post making a ringing sound. This is also called a dead ringer.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater:
Before the luxury of running water and modern day bathrooms, Sunday night’s were family bath night. The water would be heated on the wood stove or in the hearth in a large pot and the water was poured into a tin wash tub. Because father was the bread winner and the head of the house, he would be the first to bathe. Next came the sons, mother, daughters and last of all baby. Long before baby’s bath time, the water was very dirty holding seven days worth of dirt from up to eight or more family members. People often joked that one day they would not be able to see baby in the dirty bathwater and accidentally throw throw them out along with the dirty bath water.
This phrase comes from the early 1800’s. The English taylor, E.B. Katz made silk pajamas for royalty and the wealthy. They were said to be the finest pajamas made anywhere in the land and they soon came to be known as Kat’z pajamas.
One meaning of an idiom is a grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language. We can tell by the examples above that they are indeed peculiar. In their day, they may have made perfect sense, through the years people continue to use the sayings but their meanings became lost in time and we tend to attach modern meaning to these age old sayings. Now when we mention “Full Monty’” it is a reference to someone without clothes, when we hear “Balls To The Wall” we think of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and many people now refer to a brass door knocker as the originating meaning of “Freeze The Balls Off A Brass Monkey.”