Word Smithing: Those Funny Sayings We Hear Every Day
Have you ever wondered about the origins of odd sayings?
Check out the tattooed Viking blacksmith photo!
Sayings Word Cloud
How well do you know your own language?
When asked, Americans exhibit the same difficulty and start scratching their collective head in puzzlement. Non-native English speakers are equally perplexed.
As with any language, phrases evolve over time and history. Often they make reference to politics long since lost to generations later. Many reference the technology of their day, several hundred years ago, so we are left clueless in today’s culture. Others reference an agrarian culture that our present culture is now estranged from as we increasingly move into mega-cities around the globe. Oddly, the archaic sayings persist in our language.
Here are a few sayings we still use today from our past:
Sleep tight: We use this saying often when wishing someone a good night’s sleep or putting a young child down to bed at night. The phrase originated from when a wooden bed frame held a mattress by stringing ropes across the frame and under the mattress. The ropes were the only means of keeping the mattress in a firm shape; when the ropes sagged so did the mattress.
When the ropes began to stretch and sag they required the regular maintenance of tightening. How did they tighten the ropes centuries ago? Their technology was to use a large wooden screw called a key to do the job. So, to “sleep tight” came to mean that others wished you well by sleeping comfortably on a tight or firm bed!
Talk about extra housework! These days all you do is purchase a new box springs or mattress to get the job done.
Those Childhood Bed Bug Tales
Bed Bugs Are No Fairy Tale
Don’t let the bed bugs bite: As recently as the 1930’s in America, about 70 years ago, we did not have mattresses as we know them today. Back then people took large cloth bags and stuffed them with whatever they had on hand inexpensively: dried corn husks if they lived on a farm, straw, dried leaves, grass or like in the Deep South they used Spanish moss. It was only the very wealthy who could afford their mattresses to be stuffed with the luxury of the softest goose down or feathers.
Here’s the revolting part: Bed bugs are not a fairy tale but real bugs. What happened when people stuffed their cloth bags with those natural elements? You guessed right! It didn’t matter how careful you were when you stuffed those mattresses, some of the bugs, larvae or eggs would get into it. As you would relax into that mattress, tired from the day, the bugs would migrate to the warmest part of the bed: you! They would only settle down for their sleep after a few chomps on you. Apparently, because of international travel there is a resurgence of this issue and bed bug biting experience. Consider carefully before signing up for that cheap hotel room overseas.
How to Inspect Your Hotel Room Bed for Bedbugs - interesting blog post from a bug expert.
Flea Markets in Paris
Shopping Flea Markets Tradition
Flea market: And while we are on the subject of bugs… Have you ever wondered where this saying came from when you were out buying antiques or the “nearly new” already used items?
There seems to be a consensus among the educational intelligentsia that this phrase was a literal French translation. Le Marché aux Puces literally translates as “market of the fleas.” During the 1920’s American Art Deco period this was a popular place to shop in Paris. (French Art Deco was much earlier in the mid-1800’s.)
Tatooed Viking Blacksmith (one scary guy)
Those Famous Horse Operas!
Strike while the iron is hot: OK, you probably guessed at this one if you have ever watched the early American TV shows affectionately called horse operas: Westerns. This phrase goes back to the blacksmithing trades often shown in that culture of horses.
How did the blacksmith work the metal? In order to properly shape the metal it had to be heated to a very high heat for easy working. The blacksmith’s highest chances to successfully shape the metal were tied to very high heat.
Because at one time in American culture the blacksmith was common knowledge and daily experience, “strike while the iron is hot” came to mean that your chances of success for any endeavor would come when you act at the peak moment while things are hot, popular or in demand.
Do you have some fun sayings to add? Feel free to comment!
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I'm a Social Issues Poet (SIP). Pay a visit to my poetry, news, humor and political blog: The Social Poets. Posting is every day.
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