Idiomatic expressions are part of our everyday speech. They sound silly, but we never question them when we hear them. We understand them perfectly. If I tell you “Fred kicked the bucket,” you know I’m not talking about some new form of soccer. Fred’s dead. If I’m trying to “get to the bottom of something”—“pulling his leg” or “I got taken to the cleaners,” you know exactly what I mean. It does sound silly, though, doesn’t it? We have over 25,000 such idioms in our English language. Every language has lots of idiomatic expression.
Then I see stories, legends or myths that explain the origin of some of these things. I have no idea if these stories are true, but it’s such fun reading them.
So, go ahead, check these latest ones I have been told, and make your own decisions—
True or False?
Early aircraft’s throttles had a ball on the end of it, in order to go full throttle the pilot had to push the throttle all the way forward into the wall of the instrument panel. Hence “balls to the wall” for going very fast.
During WWII, U.S. airplanes were armed with belts of bullets which they would shoot during dogfights and on strafing runs. These belts were folded into the wing compartments that fed their machine guns. These belts measure 27 feet and contained hundreds of rounds of bullets. Often times, the pilots would return from their missions having expended all of their bullets on various targets. They would say, I gave them the whole nine yards, meaning they used up all of their ammunition.
Did you know the saying “God willing and the creek don’t rise” was in reference to the Creek Indians and not a body of water? It was written by Benjamin Hawkins in the late 18th century. He was a politician and Indian diplomat. While in the south, Hawkins was requested by the President of the U.S. to return to Washington . In his response, he was said to write, “God willing and the Creek don’t rise.” Because he capitalized the word “Creek” it is deduced that he was referring to the Creek Indian tribe and not a body of water.
In George Washington’s days, there were no cameras. One’s image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are ‘limbs,’ therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, “Okay, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.” (Artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint.)
THIS ONE IS REAL TOUGH TO BUY (if you understand that idiom)
Personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee’s wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions. When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman’s face she was told, “mind your own bee’s wax.” Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term “crack a smile”. In addition, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt. Therefore, the expression “losing face.”
Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and dignified woman, as in “straight laced” wore a tightly tied lace.
Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important. Since there were no telephones, TV’s or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars. They were told to go sip some Ale and listen to people’s conversations and political concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at different times. You go sip here and you go sip there. The two words go sip were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and, thus we have the term “gossip.”ONE MORE. Bet you didn’t know this. In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. However, how to prevent them from rolling about the deck? The best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. There was only one problem….how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a ‘Monkey’ with 16 round indentations. However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make Brass Monkeys. Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled.. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey; Thus, it was quite literally, “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” (All this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn’t you.)