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The History of Sayings (Part 2)

The History of Sayings (Part 2)




Hoping you enjoyed the last series of funny sayings and their origins, here are a few more! Isn't the history of language odd? Fun though!





Hit the sack

To go to bed, to sleep. This probably refers to the fact that in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, mattresses often consisted of old ‘sacks’ filled with hay or straw. Thus when you lay down to sleep you hit the sack.


Let the cat out of the bag

This old saying is probably derived from the days when people who sold piglets in bags sometimes put a cat in the bag instead. If you let the cat out of the bag you exposed the trick.


Long shot

A long shot is an attempt or guess that has only the slightest chance of succeeding. In the past guns were only accurate at short range. So a 'long shot' (fired over a long distance) only had a small chance of hitting its target.


Mad as a hatter

To be crazy or insane. This phrase comes from the fact that in the 18th and 19th centuries hat makers, known as ‘hatters’, treated hats with mercury. Inhaling mercury vapour is thought to cause mental illness. If it affected the nervous system of the hatters it caused them to tremble and appear insane.


Pot luck

In the past all kinds of food went into a big pot for cooking. If you sat down to a meal with a family you often had to take 'pot luck' and could never be quite sure what you would be served.


Read the riot act

Angry parents may threaten to ‘read the riot act’ to their children when they are naughty. In the 18th century the Riot Act was a real document and it was often recited aloud to angry mobs.


A scapegoat is a person or group who are made to bear blame for others. According to the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement a priest would confess all the sins of the Israelites over the head of a goat and then drive it into the wilderness, symbolically bearing their sins away. He was a 'scapegoat' for the people's sins.


Sent to Coventry

Sent to Coventry refers to when people avoid speaking to you. The most likely explanation for this old saying is that during the English Civil War, Royalists captured in the Midlands were sent to Coventry. They were held prisoner in St John’s Church and the local people shunned them and refused to speak to them.


Spill the beans

To give away a secret or to tell all. This phrase may have come from Ancient Greek voting practices where black and white beans were used to represent yes and no on the issue being voted on. Each voter put one bean into a pot or helmet and the result was revealed by spilling out the beans.


Wear your heart on your sleeve

In the Middle Ages knights who fought at tournaments wore a token of their lady on their sleeves. Today if you make your feelings obvious to everybody you wear your heart on your sleeve.


Win hands down

To win with ease or little effort. This old saying comes from horse racing. If a jockey was a long way ahead of his competitors and sure to win the race he could relax and put his hands down at his sides.



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