anecdotes / humor / satire / Thoughts & Anecdotes / Uncategorized

Fun Facts about Common Phrases

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. 

Pipe Dream

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.


12 thoughts on “Fun Facts about Common Phrases

  1. These are pretty cool. I sleep on the left side so I guess I get up in the wrong side of the bed every day. And as for those pipe dreams, are they always about success? Because I’ve had a few about magic dragons…

  2. Love those origins, Kim. One of my favorites is “Mad as a hatter”. From wiki: “is a colloquial phrase used in conversation to refer to a crazy person. In 18th and 19th century England, mercury was used in the production of felt, which was used in the manufacturing of hats common of the time. People who patronised these hat factories were exposed daily to trace amounts of the metal, which accumulated within their bodies over time, causing some workers to develop dementia caused by mercury poisoning (called mad hatter syndrome). Thus, the phrase became popular as a way to refer to someone who was perceived as insane.”

  3. I love these, Kim!! Thank you! (As you can imagine, when I translate exactly what I hear, nothing makes sense!! 🙂

    “The skinny” is a slang term that refers to inside information. Is that true? 🙂

    • I can imagine! Yes, “the skinny” is slang for inside information but its origins are unclear (in my searches). It most likely dates back to the Second World War and *might refer to the paper, military orders were received on. Some say, because the paper was onion thin, and fragile, military personnel began referring to it as “the skinny.”

      • That’s very interesting, Kim!
        And thank you for these! You have no idea how wonderful is to understand people when they talk to you 😀

  4. Pingback: Phrase Origins Part 2 | kimboxin

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