Popular English Phrases & Their Origins

When it comes to english phrases, some that we use are totally out there. Yet we use them and understand their meaning without question. If I say to you that you need the “hair of the dog”, you know what I mean instantly. But how on earth did this come to mean what it does? Let’s find out.

Popular English Phrases & Their Origins

  1. The Hair of the Dog: This obviously now means to have another drink of whatever made you hung over, but for the original meaning, we need the full phrase. Hair of the dog that bit you is derived from a medieval belief that if you were bitten by a rabid dog, the same dogs hair could cure you.
  2. Raining Cats and Dogs: Although this has no definitive meaning, it is thought that during the 17th century, heavy rainfall would wash dead animals into the streets.
  3. Every Cloud has a Silver Lining: This was originally coined by none other than John Milton in Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634). This popularized the saying and is used by various authors from then on.
  4. A Diamond in the Rough: John Fletcher first used it in 1624 in book A Wife for a Month. This saying comes from the fact that diamonds found in nature are unpolished and rough.
  5. A Labour of Love: This has its origins in the King James Bible. Specifically Thessalonians 1:2, 1:3: and Hebrews 6:10. It’s thought that the writers took the expression from the Shakespeare play Love’s Labour Lost and adapted it.
  6. Lamb to the Slaughter: Another from the King James Bible. This has its roots in Jeremiah 11:19 and Isaiah 53:7.
  7. Back to Square One: This has its roots in sport, believe it or not. Early radio commentaries for soccer games by the BBC had listeners follow the progress using a piece of paper with eight rectangles on it. The commentators would tell the listeners which square the ball was in and so the expression was born.
  8. Pie in the Sky: This phrase means the promise of riches in Heaven while suffering here on Earth. It was coined by Joe Hill in 1911 but was popularized during the Second World War when a report in the Fresno Bee used it in 1939.
  9. Hand over Fist: Now used to mean making money quickly, this has its roots in naval origin and meant to be pulling on a rope.
  10. A Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: This phrase means it’s better to have an advantage than the chance of a greater one. The first used instance is in John Ray’s A Book of Proverbs from 1670 and refers to Falconry. It was meant that your Falcon was worth much more than the prey it was going after.
  11. Pass the Buck: This has its roots in poker. Nowadays we use a dealer button to keep track of betting and positions, but in the early days they used a knife which frequently had a handle made of bucks horn.
  12. Close but no Cigar: This is from the mid 20th century and is to do with fairgrounds. Fairground attractions used to give out cigars as prizes, which lead to the term.
  13. All Roads lead to Rome: This saying means that there are more than one way to accomplish something and comes from the Romans conquering of much of europe. They paved most of europe and all roads led back to the seat of power, Rome.
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