We use phrases, expressions, and proverbs on a daily basis when conversing with each other. Whether you’re at home, hanging out with some friends, or at work, chances are that you’ve uttered one of the phrases below more than once in your life. But, do you ever stop to think about what these expressions really mean? Where they come from? The answer to this is probably no, so let’s take a look at 8 common phrases and learn where there came from.
1. It’s Raining Cats and Dogs
Houses used to have thatched roofs. These roofs had thick straw piled together to form a ceiling, but there was no wood underneath.
So how did this phrase come about? Well, according to a popular theory, on cold nights, animals such as cats, dogs, mice, and rats would climb onto these roofs in order to have a warm place to sleep. Unfortunately, when it started to rain, the thatched roofs got so slippery that cats and dogs would slip and fall off the roofs. Therefore, when it rained heavily, it would literally rain cats and dogs (and whatever other animals were on the roofs).
2. Mad as a Hatter
The average person will probably tell you that this famous expression comes from Alice in Wonderland, but they’d be sorely mistaken. The Mad Hatter character isn’t the reason you use this phrase when describing someone who has lost their mind.
The true origin goes back to the days when actual hatmakers used mercury to construct their hats. The mercury poisoned the hatmakers and affected their nervous systems. Mercury causes aggressive, heavy mood swings, and erratic behavior and, as a result, “mad hatter’s disease” became the nickname for mercury poisoning, and the expression has been popular ever since.
3. Cat Got Your Tongue?
This is often used when someone is silent or at a loss for words. Surprisingly though, it has nothing to do with cats. In the English navy, punishments were handed out in the form of a flogging, which was carried out with a whip known as a cat-o’-nine-tails.
This was a formidable weapon, and the pain from being flogged by it was so bad that it caused its victims to go mute. They would often be afraid to speak and would often remain mute for a long time after a flogging.
Drunken navy sailors would then walk around shouting, “Cat got your tongue?” as a way of taunting the victims. So, next time you’re rendered speechless because someone made a really good point, remember that it could be a lot worse.
4. Bring Home the Bacon
There are a number of theories as to where this phrase comes from, but the two most popular include pigs.
According to one theory, this phrase comes from winners at state fairs bringing home the greased pigs they caught in competitions. However, the more popular theory is that highly successful men back in the day would buy pork, cook some bacon, and then hang it on their walls when they had guests over. This showed everyone how successful the men were. Walking into a man’s house and seeing bacon hanging on the wall meant that he was to be respected. In this particular case, bringing home the bacon was the ultimate sign of power and class.
5. Eat Crow
Usually, we have to “eat crow” when we’ve been proven wrong after taking a strong stance on something.
The expression originates from where you’d expect. Crow meat tastes bad and is hard to swallow. The simple connection to this term can start and end here, but there’s an even more interesting origin story.
Back in 1812, an American accidentally went hunting across British enemy lines. The US soldier was caught shooting and killing a crow by a British soldier. As punishment, the British soldier, after praising the American for his accurate shooting, tricked him into giving up his gun.
Now armed, the Brit pointed the gun at the American and forced him to take a bite out of the crow. After the American complied, he was given back his gun. Angered, the American then turned the gun on the British soldier and forced him to eat the rest of the bird.
6. On Cloud Nine
It’s often thought that this is a reference to Heaven, but this is not true.
According to one known origin of this expression, one of the classifications of clouds, defined by the US Weather Bureau in the 1950s, is known as “Cloud Nine.” This is a type of fluffy, cumulonimbus type of cloud.
So, what makes this cloud so special? Well, this cloud is considered to be the most attractive in the cloud community, which is what gives the phrase it’s positive connotation.
7. Crocodile Tears
For those who may not know, this expression refers to someone who is faking crying or pretending to be upset. When they do this, they are said to be shedding crocodile tears.
Did this phrase come about because crocodiles never cry? Well, no, the origin is a lot more interesting than that. In an ancient anecdote, Photios claimed that crocodiles cry to strategically lure their prey closer to them. When the prey is close enough, the crocodiles drop the act and go in for the kill.
8. Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
This strange expression goes all the way back to the 1500s. Believe it or not, but people in the 16th century only bathed once a year, and to make matters worse, entire groups used to bathe in the same water.
The men would go first, then the women, and then the children and babies went last. The water was so dirty by the time the babies got in, that they often came out clouded. Sometimes, mothers had to make sure that the babies weren’t literally thrown out with the dirty bathwater.
The phrase, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” now means that you should make sure you don’t throw out anything valuable while getting rid of unnecessary things. Nothing is more valuable than a newborn baby, so the phrase still rings true even to this day.