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6 Common Sayings and Their Origins

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We don’t even realize the number of conversational vernaculars we use during the course of day.

Have you ever spoken to someone trying to learn English? “What is this, ‘bring home the bacon?’ you speak of?” We don’t even know the answer to why we say them…they’re just part of how we speak. Here’s some common sayings we use and where they came from. 

  1. Saved by the bell: Students across the nation think it means that when the bell rings, they’re outta there. Not so. Really. It comes from the cemetery. Prior to the modern embalming techniques used today, people sometimes really would find themselves awakening in a coffin. Luckily, a string would be tied to their fingers and the graveyard keeper would hear as that string would begin to ring the bell hovering on the grave. Saved by the bell.

  2. Bite The Bullet: What does it mean to bite the bullet? Well, suck it up and go through the pain. Back in the days of the American Revolution and Civil War, there were no anesthetics available when emergency surgery would be performed on battlefields. Men would be given a bullet to bite down on to endure the pain. The sad part was that most of them would die anyway.

  3. Show Your True Colors: In the nautical world, your flag would be the only form of identification that other ships could see. Much in the way a ship would turn their own flag upside down to signify distress to others, sometimes, the flag was not always what it seemed. Pirates especially would hoist the colors of whatever nation or organization they wished to portray. It wasn’t until they were ready to attack that they would “show their true colors” and switch the flag, identifying themselves for the danger they truly were.

  4. Wake Up on The Wrong Side of The Bed: Here’s another instance that left-handed people are left to feel badly. The left side of the body is often referred to as “the wrong side.” Ancient cultures believed the left side was evil. In fact, in Italian, the word for “left” is “sinistra.” Sinister. Innkeepers would keep the beds pushed up against the wall so people would wake up on “the right side.” To wake up on the wrong side meant you got out of bed on the left side and you were destined for a terrible day.

  5. Bring Home The Bacon: While we use it as a way of saying we’ve been paid, this idiom can be traced from at least the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer even mentions it in his Canterbury Tales. The Dunmow Flitch in Essex was a town event where the winner would bring home a flitch of bacon. It was a source of pride to be honored with being able to bring home the bacon.

  6. Break The Ice: On frozen rivers and passageways, frozen solid ice doesn’t flow. It doesn’t allow for any movement. Cue the icebreakers. These ships are designed to break up the ice and get the water (and the trade and transport) on the move again. It works much in the way we need icebreakers to get conversations started.

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