We use metaphorical sayings almost everyday in speech, but where do they actually come from?
We use sayings a lot, sometimes without even noticing – but does anyone ever stop to think about the saying and where it came from? Sayings are a metaphorical language, but most of them actually come from a literal meaning. You’ll be surprised at what some of these common English sayings mean.
Saying: ”Bite the bullet”
Meaning: Accepting something difficult or unpleasant.
Where it came from: During battle, there was no time to administer anaesthesia emergency surgery, the surgeon made patients bite down on a bullet in an attempt to distract them from the pain.
Saying: ”Crocodile tears”
Meaning: An insincere display of grief or sadness.
Where it came from: Crocodile tears come from an ancient belief that crocodiles wept insincerely if it killed and ate a man.
Saying: ”Pulling my leg”
Meaning: To tease someone or jokingly lie to them.
Where it came from: ”Pulling one’s leg” actually comes from the criminal world of the 18th century when street thieves would literally pull victims down by their leg in order to more easily rob them.
Saying: ”Break a leg”
Meaning: Good luck.
Where it came from: The saying ”break a leg” originates from theatre. Wishing someone good luck was considered bad luck; instead, it was more suitable to wish ill will on someone before a performance as the opposite was supposed to happen.
Saying: ”The kiss of death”
Meaning: An action that causes failure.
Where it came from: The saying’s roots rest in Italian Mafia, where someone who’s been marked for death receives the metaphorical kiss prior to execution.
Saying: ”Sleep tight”
Meaning: Sleep well.
Where it came from: The meaning dates back to when mattresses were supported by ropes, these ropes needed to be pulled tight to provide a stable mattress and a good night’s rest.
Saying: ”Elephant in the room”
Meaning: An obvious truth that is unaddressed/ignored.
Where it came from: In 1959, the New York Times paper described financing schools as the ”elephant in the room”, meaning that the problem was so big you can’t ignore it. The saying caught on.
Saying: ”Hair of the dog that bit you”
Meaning: A term for a hangover cure.
Where it came from: This came from the belief that once bitten by a dog, the victim would be cured by applying the same dog’s hair to the wound.
Saying: ”A sight for sore eyes”
Meaning: A person that one is extremely pleased to see.
Where it came from: Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, first used the phrase in ”A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” in 1738, with the line ”The sight of you is good for sore eyes.”
Saying: ”As happy as Larry”
Meaning: Extremely happy.
Where it came from: It originates from a boxer called Larry Foley in the 1890’s, before boxing was legalised. He won the biggest prisoe of about $150,000 and a newspaper article in New Zealand had the headline ”Happy as Larry” and the phrase stuck.