Origins of some gruesome everyday sayings
OK so that's not much to do with web design - in fact it has nothing to do with web design at all but rather interesting we thought! Enjoy!!!
They are everyday terms that most of us use without a second thought.
But it turns out some of our favourite phrases have sinister and often downright gruesome origins.
Researchers at family history website Genes Reunited trawled through the archives to explore the real meanings of common sayings, from “gone to pot” to “meeting a deadline”.
And as a rule of thumb – yes, that is one, too – the grim results revealed a particularly bloody history of the English language...
Paying through the nose
Traces back to the ninth century Irish poll tax imposed by the Danes, who slit the noses from tip to eyebrow of anyone who refused to pay.
Gone to pot
This charming term was coined when boiling to death was a legal punishment.
Some sources also say that it evolved into a 17th century euphemism for those who had fallen victim to cannibals.
A less gruesome explanation is that it refers to the cutting up of meat into pieces ready for the cooking pot.
Pull someone’s leg
Originally a method used by thieves to entrap their victims before robbing them.
One thief would be assigned “tripper-up” duty, and would use different instruments to knock the person to the ground.
Sounds like it was no joke for the victim...
A line that was drawn to stop prisoners escaping in the American Civil War – they would be shot in the head if they crossed it.
Saved by the bell
Comes from a fear of being buried alive.
String was tied to the deceased’s wrist and passed through the coffin lid, up through the ground and tied to a bell.
Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night and listen in case the corpse was not really dead and was ringing the bell.
Pressed for an answer
This one has a horribly literal origin.
In the middle ages, captives would have heavy weights loaded straight on to their chests in an effort to squeeze a confession out of them during interrogation.
Holding a wake
Another phrase that stems from a fear of being buried alive.
A party was thrown around the body, just to make sure the corpse didn’t “wake” up.
Commonly used to describe wild or erratic behaviour, but the saying was popularised in the 18th and 19th centuries, when European visitors to Malaysia learned of a peculiar mental problem that caused otherwise normal tribesmen to go on brutal and seemingly random killing sprees.
Amok came from the “Amuco”, a band of Javanese and Malay warriors who were known for their penchant for indiscriminate violence.
Saying this after someone sneezes dates back to the sixth century, when a plague spread across much of Europe and the Near East.
Pope Gregory started the trend of saying “bless you” after a sneeze, as a sneeze was often the first sign of infection.
The phrase originated after First World War soldiers who had lost all their limbs were reported to have been carried around in baskets.
In 1919, a bulletin was issued by the US Command on Public Information, saying: “The Surgeon General of the Army denies that there is any foundation for stories that have been circulated of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.”
Hoist by your own petard
A petard was a 16th century French bomb that was so unreliable it often blew up its own user.
To haul someone over the coals
Another literal one. In the middle ages, people accused of witchcraft would be dragged over the red-hot coals of a fire.
If they survived the ordeal, then they were declared innocent.
Sweet Fanny Adams
Fanny Adams was an eight-year-old girl murdered in Hampshire in 1867, her body dismembered and thrown in a field.
Sailors in the Royal Navy came to use the expression to refer to unpleasant meat rations they were served.
The phrase later spread across the armed forces and came to mean “nothing”.
Bite the bullet
Long before anaesthetic, hurt soldiers had to endure operations with just a few shots of rum for the pain.
The phrase is said to derive from clenching a bullet in your teeth to cope with the agony.
Another theory says it stems from the days when troops had to bite a greased paper cartridge to release gunpowder.
Hindus would refuse for fear the grease contained cow fat, and Muslims in case it contained the fat of a pig.
Rule of thumb
Now, it suggests a practical approach to problem-solving, but it was once a violent way to settle disputes at home.
In 1886 Sir Francis Buller ruled that “a man was entitled to beat his wife with a stick, provided it was no thicker than his thumb”.
In the 1700s, the term described men who struggled the longest when they were hanged.
It became even more common after the 1811 Battle of Albuera during the Napoleonic Wars.
In the midst of the fight, a hurt British officer named William Inglis urged his unit forward by bellowing: “Stand your ground, die hard… make the enemy pay dear for each of us!”