Do you ever say something and then wonder “what does that even mean?” Of course you do! We all do, and I’m here to give you the “skinny” on the origins of some commonly used phrases.
First off, I have no idea where the term “give you the skinny” comes from, and I cannot find a concise answer but I’ll keep “racking my brains” until I find out.
Let’s start with what is known.
Racking my brains
Tanners stretched leather out on racks, which later caught on as an ideal form of torture to stretch a person out and get information from him. Eventually, this method to get information became illegal; but, the phrase became known in society as an expression to trying to find some answer or solution that was mentally torturous on one’s brain or mind.
Louis XIII (1601 – 1643) went prematurely bald and took to wearing a wig. By the middle of the century, and especially during the reign of Louis XIV, The Sun King, wigs were virtually obligatory for all European nobility and ‘persons of quality’. Wigs were expensive to purchase and to keep in condition and were the preserve of the powerful and wealthy. Ostentation was the order of the day in Bourbon France and over time the wigs became bigger, often to the point of absurdity and requiring scaffolding. It isn’t difficult to imagine how the term ‘big-wig’ emerged to refer to the rich and powerful.
An idea that is deemed as an unattainable or fanciful hope or scheme is called a “pipe dream” by those who can’t imagine its success. The term originates from the use of opium by smoking it through a pipe. It is said that opium produces a dream-like state of mind, where things aren’t realistic. So, smoking opium in a pipe creates a “pipe dream” sensation.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
A gift horse? What the hell is a gift horse and why would I look in its mouth? The phrase comes from the old days when determining the age of the horse was accomplished by looking at its teeth. So, before purchasing a horse, potential buyers checked its teeth to determine its age. It’s basically the equivalent of “kicking the tires” on a new car. *Please don’t kick horses.
On the other hand, if someone gave you a horse for free, it was considered rude to look in its mouth and check to see how old it was. Therefore, you were not to “look a gift horse in the mouth.” Today, this means not to question the quality or motive of a gift you get from someone.
Someone woke up on the wrong side of The bed
Did you know being left-handed makes you evil? Up until (very) recently, the left-side of the body or anything “left” was considered sinister, mysterious, dangerous or evil. So, innkeepers pushed the left sides of the bed against the walls so that a guest HAD to get up on the right side. Today, with queen and king side beds, most people get up on either side and don’t bother to think about it. But the term today of “getting up on the wrong side of the bed” refers to when someone is irritable or clumsy.
These are just a few examples to “wet your whistle.” You’ll be a “chip off the old block” if you’re “caught red-handed” researching phrase origins before my next post!
History is fun, y’all, but it’s mostly weird. It’s super weird.
Sources: brownielocks.com phrases.uk.org