Today, I am revisiting more common sayings and their history. Its always fascinating to learn more of where certain sayings come from, especially as many words have changed meanings since I was a child.
The history of some of them are quite fascinating. Are you ready to come explore with me? We're off.
1. White Elephant is a phrase most of us have heard, especially in regard to those parties where you wrap a "white elephant" up to regift it to someone else. White Elephants were once considered sacred in Thailand and appeared on the flag up until 1917. The term came about because if you offended the king, he might gift you with a white elephant. Although it seems like a great gift, these animals were expensive to feed and take care of so owning one could easily ruin the owner.
2. Resting on Laurels came from Ancient Greek Times when Laurel wreaths were presented to winners of the Pythian Games to recognize their accomplishments because the Laurel plant was associated with Apollo and became recognized as a symbol of status and achievement. The Romans adopted this custom and used it to reward Generals who won major battles. Thus resting on laurels became associated with a person's past achievements but only in recent times has it developed the negative connotation of basking and reliving past glories.
3. By and Large does not originally mean what it means today. It was actually a sailing term dating back to the 16th century. At that time, large referred to a ship sailing with the wind at its back while by meant the ship was sailing into the wind. Thus by and large means the ship is sailing the seas with no regard to the direction of the wind.
4. The Third Degree is often heard in reference to grilling someone for information. There are a couple of different theories in regard to its origin. One theory states it refers to the different degrees of murder within the criminal code while another credits New York City Detective Thomas F. "Third Degree" Byrnes for his hard nosed questioning style. The last one believes it comes from the Free Masons or other group because you have to undergo a lot of questioning before moving up a degree.
5. Let the Cat out of the Bag originates back in the 18th century when suckling pigs were sold in bags. Often enterprising artists would replace the pig with a cat before selling it to an unsuspecting mark and of course you didn't want to let the cat out of the bag.
6. Don't Look A Gift Horse in the Mouth has it origins in two historical traditions. One was that the way to tell a horse's age was to look at its gums. As a horse ages, its gums recede leading to longer teeth so people would check the mouth if they were buying one but at the same time, it was considered an affront if you checked the teeth of a horse given to you as a gift. This is where the phase came from.
7. Pulling Your Leg now a days refers to tease someone or jokingly lie but back in the 18th century it certainly did not have this meaning. Back then, robbers would often pull a person's legs to get them to fall over, making it easier for the thieves to rob the victim.
Let me know what you think of these saying and their origins. I'd love to hear from you. Have a great day.