Have you ever thought about the expressions people use on a daily basis and wonder how they became such a widespread part of the English language? Well, I can assure you that I have. The one that recently piqued my interest is “kick the bucket.” As I heard those words escape someone’s lips, I thought to myself, “What on earth does a bucket have to do with death?” If you’re just as neurotic as I am, have any interest in these sayings and their histories, or just realized “kick the bucket” really is an odd saying and you’d like to figure out the history behind it, then this list of 10 common sayings and where they came from is the list for you. I hope it doesn’t “rub you the wrong way.”
10. Blood is Thicker than Water
Meaning: Family comes before everything else
History: In ancient Middle Eastern culture, blood rituals between men symbolized bonds that were far greater than those of family. The saying also has to do with “blood brothers,” because warriors who symbolically shared the blood they shed in battle together were said to have stronger bonds than biological brothers.
9. Let Your Hair Down
Meaning: To relax or be at ease
History: Parisian nobles risked condemnation from their peers if they appeared in public without an elaborate hairdo. Some of the more intricate styles required hours of work, so of course it was a relaxing ritual for these aristocrats to come home at the end of a long day and let their hair down.
8. Rub the Wrong Way
Meaning: To irritate, bother, or annoy someone
History: In colonial America, servants were required to wet-rub and dry-rub the oak-board floors each week. Doing it against the grain caused streaks to form, making the wood look awful and irritating the homeowner.
7. Rule of Thumb
Meaning: A common, ubiquitous benchmark
History: Legend has it that 17th century English Judge Sir Francis Buller ruled it was permissible for a husband to beat his wife with a stick, given that the stick was no wider than his thumb.
6. Caught Red-Handed
Meaning: To be caught doing something wrong
History: This saying originated because of a law. If someone butchered an animal that didn’t belong to him, he had to be caught with the animal’s blood on his hands to be convicted. Being caught with freshly cut meat did not make the person guilty.
5. Spill the Beans
Meaning: To reveal a secret
History: In Ancient Greece, beans were used to vote for candidates entering various organizations. One container for each candidate was set out before the group members, who would place a white bean in the container if they approved of the candidate and a black bean if they did not. Sometimes a clumsy voter would accidentally knock over the jar, revealing all of the beans and allowing everyone to see the otherwise confidential votes.
4. Run Amok
Meaning: Go crazy
History: Comes from the Malaysian word amoq, which describes the behavior of tribesmen who, under the influence of opium, became wild, rampaging mobs that attacked anybody in their path.
3. Show Your True Colors
History: Warships used to fly multiple flags to confuse their enemies. However, the rules of warfare stated that a ship had to hoist its true flag before firing and hence, display its country’s true colors.
2. Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed
Meaning: Waking up in a bad mood
History: The left side of the body or anything having to do with the left was often associated considered sinister. To ward off evil, innkeepers made sure the left side of the bed was pushed against a wall, so guests had no other option but to get up on the right side of the bed.