It’s here! The much anticipated follow up to my first post about where common phrases originated Fun facts . I know all ten of you who liked it, have been waiting with baited breath for the sequel!
Baited Breath? If you’re not walking around with a worm on your tongue, it’s bated breath.
The term Bated Breath was first cited in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice,1596 and ‘Bated’ is simply a shortened form of ‘abated’, meaning ‘to bring down, lower or depress’. ‘Abated breath’ makes perfect sense and that’s where the phrase comes from.
Balls to the wall
Well this phrase conjures up all kinds of images, but it’s rooted in aviation.
Meaning: Pushed to the limit.
Origin: It derives from aviation. The ‘balls’ sat on top of the levers controlling the throttle and fuel mixtures. Pushing them forward toward the front wall of the cockpit made the plane go faster.
Cold Shoulder anyone?
Meaning: Made to feel unwelcome.
Origin: Nothing to do with barging someone out of the way. In times gone by, an unwelcome visitor would have been given the cheapest and most common type of food: cold shoulder of mutton. Baa!
Get one’s Goat
Origin: It’s a horse racing term. Nervous horses could be calmed down by placing a goat in the stall with them. Dastardly rival horse owners would sometimes steal, or ‘get’, these goats, thereby upsetting the horse and making it likely to lose the race.
Over a barrel
Meaning: To be under someone’s control.
Origin: This dates back to the Spanish inquisition. A form of torture was to suspend someone over a barrel of boiling oil. If you didn’t agree to the demands, you’d be dropped in. Ouch!
Pull out all the stops
Meaning: Achieve the maximum.
Origin: The ‘stops’ are knobs on an organ console. If the organist pulled them all out, he would be squeezing the most volume out of the instrument possible.
Cut to the chase
Cut to the chase is a saying that means to get to the point without wasting time.
The phrase originated from early silent films. It was a favorite of, and thought to have been coined by, Hal Roach Sr. (January 14, 1892 – November 2, 1992).
Films, particularly comedies, often climaxed in chase scenes. Some inexperienced screenwriters or directors would pad the film with unnecessary dialogue, which bored the audience and prolonged the time before the exciting chase scene. “Cut to the chase” was a phrase used by studio executives, meaning don’t bore us with the dialog – get to the interesting scenes without unnecessary delay. The phrase is now widely used, and means “get to the point.”
Steal one’s Thunder
Meaning: To do something that takes attention away from what someone else has done.
Origin: The 18th century playwright John Dennis claimed to have invented a machine that could mimic the sound of thunder in the theatre. When rivals used the same trick, he complained they’d ‘stolen his thunder’.
Make the grade
Meaning: Reach the required standard.
Origin: Nothing to do with sitting exams. ‘Grade’ is short for ‘gradient’. The expression derives from railroad construction in 19th century America. Careful calculations had to be made to ensure engines didn’t encounter sudden steep gradients.
Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: Divulge a secret.
Origin: In times gone by, farmers would bring suckling pigs to market wrapped up in a bag. Unscrupulous ones would substitute a cat for the pig. If someone let the cat out of the bag, the deceit was uncovered.
I don’t know about you, but I constantly wonder what the hell I’m talking about. Getting down to the roots of common phrases makes me feel like a linguistic archeologist. I’m Kimdiana Jones, y’all!
Thanks for reading and geeking out with me.
To be continued…