Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Raining Cats and Dogs and Other Sayings

Dog, Cat, Animals, Dog CatThe other day, I used the phrase, more bang for your buck and my students had to ask me what it meant because its not one used locally.  I know it means the most value for your money but I didn't know its origin.

 It is a phrase that seems to have come into use during the 1950's when Dwight D Eisenhower was trying to increase the military while cutting their budget.  The military spend money on Nuclear Weapons because they could get by with fewer men while maintaining their ability to defend the United States. The earliest known usage of the phrase is from 1940 when it appeared in an ad in the magazine "Metals and Plastic Publication.  Over time, the phrase has shifted from referring to weapons to a general usage of more value for the money.

Raining cats and dogs has an interesting background.  No one is exactly sure of its origin but the first related reference appeared in 1651 in a poem by Englishman Henry Vaugh.  He commented on a roof that was so sturdy it would hold out against "dogs and cats rained in a shower".  One year later, an author referred to raining dogs and polecats.  Polecats are similar to weasels not cats. However, it was Jonathon Swift, in 1738, who in a satire making fun of the upper class had a character comment about "rain cats and dogs." Although Swift didn't coin the phrase, he is attributed with making it popular.

One thought of the origin of raining cats and dogs is that it is from the word catadupe which was corrupted into cats and dogs.  The word catadupe from Old English meant waterfall so when you say its raining cats and dogs, you are saying there is a fall of water coming down.  Another thought is that it comes from the Greek expression catadoxa which means contrary to belief so raining cats and dogs means it is raining unusually hard. The bottom line is that no one is sure.

Getting out of hand means when someone looses control which is sort of where the phrase came from but not quite.  This dates back to when people used horses.  If the rider did not keep a firm control on the reigns of a horse, the horse could "get out of hand".  On the other hand, making the grade really has nothing to do with getting a high grade.  It'a roots go back to the days when they were building railroads across the land.  The word grade is short for gradient and back in the 19th century, engineers had to carefully calculate grade so nothing was too steep.  If the math was correct, the track "made the grade" for was not too steep for the engines and the railroad cars.

The interesting thing about the phrase "hitting the nail on the head" is that it may or may not mean being precise and correct or making the point.  The first reference is found in a book dating from 1438.  It is the autobiography of Margery Kempe, a religious visionary of the time.  This book gives a peek into religious life of the times so scholars believe the phrase had an entirely different meaning than it does today.

"Under the weather" simply means you aren't feeling well or you are sick.  The original meaning had a much narrower usage. At first it was used to describe sailors who when sick were sent under deck to get better away from things.  So when they were under the weather, they were under the deck.  Your ears are burning came from Roman times when people believed your ears started burning when someone spoke ill of you.  They said if your left ear burned, someone was speaking ill of you but if your right ear burned, people were saying good things about you.

The Romans were also responsible for "Waking up on the wrong side of the bed."  They believed if you got up on the left side of the bed you would give you bad luck all day long and you worked hard not to do it.  The English were responsible for the "Skeleton in the closet."  This phrase came from a 19th century English family who hid their son in the closet when visitors came to keep anyone from mowing about his illness.   The phrase made its appearance in the Eclectic Review in 1816 and at this time skeleton was another name for illness or disease.

These are just a few phrases that have fun histories.  I hope you enjoyed reading about them.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.

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