10 Origins of Commonly Used Phrases

An idiom is a group of words that make up a phrase with a symbolic meaning rather than a literal meaning. Phrases like “it’s pouring with rain” can be confusing to someone who isn’t a native of the language. We are all guilty of using many idioms and other popular phrases on a daily basis, but do we know where these phrases originated? Here are ten commonly used phrases and their origins.

Related: The 10 dumbest words in English and their origins

10 pull out all the stops

We commonly use the phrase “do as much as possible” when we talk about putting in a lot of effort to achieve something. Your boss may ask you to go above and beyond on an upcoming project, or you can tell a friend how he had to go above and beyond to make the party happen. However, the phrase has a much older meaning that relates to a pipe organ.

The word “stops” refers to the stop knobs on a pipe organ, which regulates the sound on the instrument by changing the active set of pipes. The pipes are arranged in sets known as ranks on an organ, and each rank will have a pipe for each of the notes on the keyboard. The ranges will sound using the airflow, and the airflow to each range is controlled by stop knobs. The organist will control which ranges are used by pushing the stop knobs in or out. If the organist were to literally “pull all the brakes off” then air would go through each row as the organ is played, creating a loud explosion of unfiltered sound.

It is believed that the first person to use a form of the phrase in a figurative application was the British poet Matthew Arnold when comparing his countrymen to an organ in his critical essays in 1865. Different forms of the phrase have been used over time, leading to the phrase we now use today.[1]

9 Put a stocking in it

Oh, put a sock on it! That’s what one would say when they wanted someone or something to immediately stop talking or shut up. The origin of the phrase is difficult to trace, but it is believed to have originated in Britain in the early 20th century. The phrase was used to imply putting a sock in one’s mouth to help calm a person down if they were being loud or annoying.

The first time the phrase appeared in print was when it was defined by the weekly literary magazine of 1919. the athenaeum. “The expression ‘put on a sock’, which means ‘stop talking, singing or shouting’”. The phrase is also said to be known as old war slang and could have been coined by someone in the military. Another use refers to lowering the sound of certain instruments by putting a sock on it.[2]

8 Come on Bananas

Saying that someone is about to go crazy could be defined as getting very excited or the opposite: getting very angry. An example of getting really excited would be: “If he scores this goal, the crowd will go wild!” If one is angry, the sentence would be something like: “Frank could go crazy if he gets fired from his job.” She may have even heard a popular Gwen Stefani song that explains the word being described here.

The origin is hard to pin down, but it may have derived from the slang term “go ape” from the 1950s. There may be a connection between apes and bananas that helped the new phrase take off. Various theories try to explain the origin, such as that mental patients eat bananas to help their brains, causing people to say going crazy instead of going crazy. Some of the craziest theories start with people smoking banana peels, the smell bananas give off, and songs that mention bananas. You know what I say about these theories? This shit is BANANAS![3]

7 smear someone

Sweetening someone up doesn’t mean lathering them up with a tub of Land O’ Lakes, but flattering someone into agreeing with you or giving you something. The origin of the common phrase dates back to ancient India, where it was customary to throw balls of Ghee butter at the sculptures of different divinities during worship.

Ghee is clarified butter that has been strained to remove all the water. Butter balls were supposed to help them gain favors from the gods, such as good fortune and health.[4]

6 bite the bullet

During the American Civil War, anesthesia was not available for soldiers undergoing a medical procedure. The soldiers would then bite the bullets when undergoing surgery to help overcome the pain. All the legends show that the people who received the capital punishment also bit the bullets so as not to think about the lashes or lashes they would receive. This description first appeared in the 1796 book Classic dictionary of the vulgar language.

The term is now used to show that you are stepping up or taking responsibility for an action and accepting the possible consequences. Someone may say, “It’s time for me to bite the bullet and admit what I’ve done.” The first known use of the phrase as an idiom was in Rudyard Kipling’s book. the light that failed. He wrote: “Easy Dickie, easy! He said the deep voice in his ear, and the grip tightened. ‘Bite the bullet, old man, and don’t let them think you’re scared.’[5]

5 Deep sleep

“Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite you.” Your parents may have told you that right before bed, you may even tell your own children before bed. “Sleep tight” is just another way of saying “goodnight” to someone.

In 1866, the term was first found in print in Susan Bradford Eppe’s diary. Through some eventful years. She wrote: “Everything is ready and we leave as soon as breakfast is done. Goodbye, little diary. Sleep tight and wake up bright, because I’ll need you when I get back.” By the end of the 19th century, the phrase was common in Britain and the United States. Some rumors have said that the phrase originated from the tension of the ropes that held up the mattresses, but this is most likely due to the fact that “tight” easily rhymes with “night” and “bite”.[6]

4 Golden Rule

A rule of thumb is described as an approximate method of procedure based on experience. The origin of the phrase is unclear. The first time the phrase appeared in literature was in a collection of sermons by James Durham in 1685. It also appeared in Sir William Hope’s book. The Complete Fencing Master in 1692 and in 1721 Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs by James Kelly.

The phrase is believed by many to come from English common law describing the width of a stick (thumb width) that a man might use to beat his wife. Such a law was never shown to exist. The English judge Sir William Blackstone once wrote about an old law that allowed beatings by husbands, but he never mentioned the thumb or any other rule of measure. The width of a thumb is also known historically as the equivalent of an inch in the fabric trade. Brewers have also used their thumb to estimate the heat of the brewing vat.[7]

3 son of a gun

The phrase “son of a gun” is generally used as the less explicit form of the phrase “son of a bitch”, and generally describes a mischievous or dishonest person. The phrase probably arose around 200 years ago and was used to describe the son of a military man. The Royal Navy sometimes allowed women to remain on board their ships. This was not officially allowed, but they sometimes turned a blind eye and allowed wives and girlfriends to stay.

The ship’s record had to include everyone who entered the ship, exited the ship, and died while on board, including women. The registry also kept track of anyone born on the ship. If the boy’s father were unknown, he would be listed as “son of a gun.” Eventually, all children born on board were known as a child of a gun, and later all children of a military man would be identified as such.[8]

2 Go mad

The phrase “freak out” generally describes someone going crazy while doing something. A false etymology of the phrase comes from a sailor who sank a ship in the mud. Most likely, the term originated in Asia, where it meant “a furious frenzy or rage leading to murder.” Said to come from the Amuco, a class of maniacal warriors hired during power struggles in Malaysia and Java. These hired killers attacked quickly and killed as many people as possible.

Captain James documented his time in these parts of the world in trips in 1772, in which he wrote: “To go mad is to become drunk on opium… to go out of the house, kill the person or persons who are supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person who tries to impede his passage.”[9]

1 eat downstairs

We use the phrase “chow down” when referring to sitting down to eat. One might say: “The food is ready, so we eat!” The two words together were literal in their original form, meaning to swallow food down someone’s throat. These words were first seen together in a 1937 printing of The Wilkes-Barre Time Leadersaying, “You can ask me anything, but only after Williams and I have thrown some food at each other.”

The phrase “chow down” originated sometime around World War II by the US Army. A story about life on a submarine was documented in The Hammond Times in 1942 and stated: “‘Chow down, sir,’ reported a white-coated waiter… Served on navy and white crockery, we stock steak, potatoes, peas and ice cream.”[10]

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