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

By Denny Lyon
By Denny Lyon

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.

Sleeping Beauty

Photo by GettysGirl @ flickr
Photo by GettysGirl @ flickr

Sleeping Tradition

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

Photo by wonderferret @ flickr
Photo by wonderferret @ flickr

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

Photo by extranoise @ flickr
Photo by extranoise @ flickr
Photo of flea market - le marche au puces de Paris-Saint-Ouen by GhirigoriBaumann at flickr
Photo of flea market - le marche au puces de Paris-Saint-Ouen by GhirigoriBaumann at flickr

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)

Photo by hans s @ flickr
Photo by hans s @ flickr

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!

Thanks for visiting!

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.

Cheeky Quotes Day is on Wednesdays. Libations Friday! posts coffee recipes and an original poem on Fridays.

Come visit The Social Poets!

Update: Thanks to the 300 folks over at StumbleUpon who showed up within the first hours after this was posted. Thank you so much for your support, much appreciated!


hub #43 

Comments are always welcome! Thanks! 34 comments

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

I love articles like this, especially when they come with photos - hope you will send more this way!

I always heard that phrase 'good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!' - and they are baaack!

Lots of thanks!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Bk, thanks for your lovely visit, much appreciated!


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 7 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

"Bite your tongue" remember that one?...OMG I used to clean motel rooms for a while and never did I know this??? And that blog was so good...as one person said "Just reading this I itch"...Great job here sweetie...  Thanks for the buggy story....:O) Hugs


readabook profile image

readabook 7 years ago from Texas

I love this hub. My son is studying linguistics so I have been reading a bit on the subject. It is so interesting to find out where these phrases come from and how language develops.


Anthony James Barnett - author 7 years ago

Great hub, Denny. Well written and interesting as usual. Each country has it's own unique sayings - which when translated literarily, are nonsense. We have to take them with a 'pinch of salt' and search for the meaning behind the words.


nazishnasim 7 years ago

Denny Dear,

What an informative and delightful peace. Never knew that these phrases had some actual background behind them. Thankyou!

Much love! :D.


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, G-Ma, I'll have to go looking for the "bite your tongue" phrase. Thanks for reminding me; I knew I could count on you to jog my brain! :) Thought I'd keep this one short as it was already over 800 words and people don't like long reads most of the time.  This is a favorite subject with me, "origins" of just about anything, including language!  Thanks for your visit!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, readabook, thanks for your visit! Linguistics, what a cool major!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Anthony, thanks for visiting! You are right too; literal translation is just plain weird, leaving us scratching our heads. Many a time I've tried explaining those phrases when traveling overseas when someone was trying to better their English and wow! was that an effort - complete with pantomime! :)


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, nazish, thanks for visiting! It is fun to go looking for these oddities - then you really start wondering about what just came out of your mouth! :)


rongould profile image

rongould 7 years ago

There are a lot of old sayings that have survived, Most of them are regional in nature. I also enjoy finding out the hows and whys behind words and phrases. Excellent hub!


G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 7 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Hey sweetie here's a few more.."Penny for your thoughts" "A penny earned is a penny saved" "Cross my heart" "Bread and Butter" when two people go with a pole between them...Ok Ok I know you are busy now :O) Hugs and good luck///G-Ma


Laughing Mom profile image

Laughing Mom 7 years ago

Bed Bugs---eeeewwwwwwww!!!

Very interesting stuff. I'll have to come back and see if you found the origins of any of G-Ma's suggestions!


Kushal Poddar profile image

Kushal Poddar 7 years ago from Kolkata,India

It is amazing, what we use.


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, rongould, thanks for visiting! I agree; the phrases are often regional yet with the mobility of America since the 1960's for career moves, those phrases moved into wider circles.

Hey, everyone, rongould is new at HubPages! Make sure to friend him too!

Hi, G-Ma, I just love you - you are so going to keep me busy writing! There will be no slacking allowed in this corner of the world! Keep up the good work!:)

Hi, Laughing Mom, thanks for your visit! Yes, the bed bugs are a definite ewwwww... ;) Might take a few days for me to churn out the next couple of hubs but am definitely on the hunt for other goodies!

Hey, everyone, Laughing Mom is new to HubPages - make sure to friend her!

Hi, Kushal, thanks for visiting!

Hey, everyone, Kushal, is new here at HubPages. Make sure to friend him.


ocbill profile image

ocbill 7 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

That is one beejeezus of a bed bug and great photos too. good hub


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, ocbill, thanks for visiting! Which one is scarier? The ewwww bed bug or the horror show style Viking blacksmith?


Haunty profile image

Haunty 7 years ago from Hungary

The weirdest one for me is 'Know which side of your bread is buttered.' - know where your interset lie :) Crazy.


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Thanks, Haunty, good one that is equally weird! I'd forgotten about it until you brought it up - looks like word sleuthing is in the work rotation today...


Twin XL 7 years ago

My dad used to say "Go outside and let the stink blow off ya!"


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Twin XL, thanks for visiting! You got me laughing! I've never heard that one - ever - and I have no idea where that one originated either - do you know? Your dad must be a real character. :)


linda gray profile image

linda gray 6 years ago

All of those funny sayings...make more sense when we understand where they originated! Thanks for the interesting hub!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 6 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Thanks for stopping by for a visit, linda gray!


DaniellaWood profile image

DaniellaWood 6 years ago from England

This is all really interesting stuff! I like the bit about "sleep tight" - who'da thunk?!

It does make you realise how unusual some of our sayings are.

Thanks for a good read,

Daniella


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 6 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, DaniellaWood, thanks for visiting! These sayings do get my mind going and so I go sleuthing to find the origins in the mists of murky history. :)


Fred Gillett 6 years ago

"Strike while the iron is hot" was the slogan for a labor union for laundery workers and "Iron while the strike is hot" was used by management to their supervisors.


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 6 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Fred Gillet, thanks for the great contributions!


sligobay profile image

sligobay 6 years ago from east of the equator

Thanks Denny. I love language and all of its nuances. now I must read some of your poetry. Cheers.


Lita C. Malicdem profile image

Lita C. Malicdem 6 years ago from Philippines

"Spare the rod and spoil the child", what great time we had in college then. Non-native English language users like me really had our challenging times in explaining those common adages. Peace!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 5 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, sligobay and Lita C. Malicdem, apologies for taking so long to get back to HubPages and approve your comments. I did change internet providers and it sure put me behind on all my blogs and everywhere else from 10 days off line. Anyway, thanks for stopping by for a visit - always glad to meet new people! :)


Hotmetaljr 5 years ago

Here is another to go with your blacksmith. "I have too many irons in the fire." Being a blacksmith myself I can tell you what it really means. If you have several pieces of metal in the fire and don't keep an eye on them you can lose them meaning they will melt away. This is not good because metal was scarce and expensive. Today we use the pharse to mean we have a lot going on.


KatieCohen profile image

KatieCohen 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA

This was really funny I liked it you should post some more!


Jordan Dodderer 5 years ago

@TwinXL I just told my roommate that i was taking him out to blow the stink off of him. and all three of my roommates looked at me like i was crazy. then i was trying to google its origins to prove i wasn't crazy but all i reall y found was your post. thanks for proving me sane!


EuroNinila profile image

EuroNinila 4 years ago from NYC BABY

I enjoyed you article very much :) thanks!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Photo Credits

    Sayings Word Cloud by Denny Lyon

    Sleeping Beauty by GettysGirl @ flickr

    Bed bugs by wonderferret @ flickr

    Paris flea market by extranoise @ flickr

    Flea market - le marché au puces de Paris-Saint-Ouen by Ghirigori Baumann

    Tattooed Viking Blacksmith (one scary guy) by hans s @ flickr

    More by this Author


    Click to Rate This Article
    working