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Where Do Sayings Come From? The Bizarre Stories Behind Idioms.

Updated on April 28, 2014

Everyday we use these quaint and common sayings and phrases. We may know the gist of what they mean in our current English language but where did they come from? Read on to find out some of the bizarre stories behind expressions you use everyday.

Johnny Depp as The Madd Hatter
Johnny Depp as The Madd Hatter | Source

As Mad As A Hatter

As mad as a hatter is used today to refer to someone who is crazy. There are a few theories on this one, but the one that seems most likely is that mercury used to be used in the manufacture of felt hats. The hat makers, or ‘hatters’ would have come into contact with this poison and one of the symptoms of mercury poisoning is insanity.

He Has A Chip On His Shoulder

A chip on your shoulder means to carry a grudge from the past. Here is the weird story behind the saying.

Early in the nineteenth century men who were looking for a fight would literally put a chip of wood on their shoulder as a dare. To accept the challenge a contender would knock off the chip and the fight was on!

Source

Let's Make Hay While The Sun Shines

To make hay while the sun shines means to take advantage of a situation as it may not last.

This expression is rooted in the production of hay. It is cut down while it is green and needs time to lay in the fields in the sun to dry and turn into hay. It must be collected and stored before it rains as moisture can turn it mouldy and it cannot be fed to animals.

To Bury The Hatchet

To bury the hatchet means to create peace or end an argument.

This saying comes from a practise the native Indians had. When they were in negotiations with the enemy they would literally bury their weapons; tomahawks, clubs, and knives and of course hatchets.

Break A Leg

To break a leg means wishing an actor a successful performance. But doesn’t it sound more like a curse? Here is the story behind this one.

It stems from a more superstitious time in our history when it was believed jealous spirits were around just waiting to spoil someone’s good fortune. Wishing people well could alert these nasty spirits to do their mischief, while a curse would appease them.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

To put your best foot forward means trying to make a good impression. But what do feet and good impressions have to do with each other? This is an interesting bit of history.

Back in the eighteenth century some men were fairly vain and known as dandies. People at the time believed that each of their legs was a slightly different shape, one leg being more attractive than the other. So they would literally stand with what they thought was their better leg forward and try to keep the worse one in the background. And, of course, where there is a leg, there is a foot.

To Be On Good Footing With Someone

To be on good footing with someone means to be on good terms with them. But this foot thing again! Here is another weird foot story.

There are several theories on how this saying came into usage but most experts believe it stems from an old and bizarre belief that the dimensions of a person's middle toes determined their standing in the community. So, their feet measurement influenced their status.

Bob's Your Uncle

Bob’s your uncle means something is very easy to do or that you are all set.

The origins of this dates back to 1887 when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil, AKA, Lord Salisbury appointed Arthur Balfor to the prestigious post of Chief Secretary for Ireland. As Balfour referred to Lord Salsibury as “Uncle Bob” there was an uproar at the apparent favouritism. The saying “Bob’s your Uncle” became a common sarcasm when favouritism made a situation seem preordained

Source

It's A Doozy!

It’s a doozy means something is extraordinary, difficult or daunting.

It stems from the 1920’s when the Duisenberg brothers were building luxury cars for the wealthy. People were in awe of them so “it’s a doozy” was born.

It's A Piece Of Cake

It’s a piece of cake means something that is easy.

In the 1870’s cakes were given away as prizes. In the slavery states of the USA there was a tradition. Slaves would circle around a cake and whoever was deemed the most graceful pair would win the cake. This is also where the term ‘it’s a cake walk’ came from.

The Rule Of Thumb

A rule of thumb means something is a common benchmark or a rough practical approach. But the history of this saying a little more colourful, and that color is black!

One of the stories about the origins of this saying dates back to the seventeenth century when an English judge, Judge Francis Butler ruled that it was OK for a man to beat his wife with a stick as long as the stick was no wider than his thumb.

Source

Groovy!


Groovy means something is good. And here is the groovy, cool and way out story about its origins.

Most people think of groovy as a slang term that was popularised the 1960’s but it comes from the 1930’s. It referred to musicians who were in the groove like a phonograph needle fits the groove of a record.


So, that's all for now all you cats and dolls. It has been far out and outa sight. Stay real!

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a fun hub! Very informative. I was surprised how many of these I say on any given day. :)

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thank you Billy. It was actually great fun to research. I appreciate your support.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 4 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Very interesting, I didn't know most of these!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Lisa. I didn't either until I started to do the research. Cheers!

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

      Excellent and entertaining Hub. I'd never heard of the "Uncle Bob" one -- just proving it's never to late to learn something new! Best/Sis

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Angela. I think the Bob's your uncle one is more common in England, but my Dad used to say it....and his name was Bob.Thanks for reading and I appreciate your support.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Very creative Sheri! We so take for granted the things we say and never look back to figure out why we say them. This was fun to read.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Tilsontian. I appreciate you're reading this. Cheers!

    • Gcrhoads64 profile image

      Gable Rhoads 4 years ago from North Dakota

      I love trivia like this. I hope you do more. :)

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      I like trivia too and I do intend to do more like this. Thanks for your support.

    • profile image

      mjkearn 4 years ago

      Hi Sheri and welcome to HubPages

      Thoroughly enjoyed this hub and you've done a great job.

      As mad as a hatter I thought was another way of saying you're Irish.

      Showing a pic of the Doozy got my vote though.

      Yep of course I remember Groovy from its first time around in the 30s, ha.

      Voted up, ticked and shared.

      MJ.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thank you mijkearn. A lot of people were green with envy over those Doozies...hm...green with envy. I think I will do a similar hub. Thank you for reading.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very interesting Hub here! I learned a lot of interesting facts on where such sayings originated. Up and shared!

      JSMatthew~

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It was nice to read about where all of these saying came from.

      Really interesting hub.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Susan and J.S.Mathew. It was interesting doing the research!

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Great hub! I love reading interesting facts like this. Voted up and shared!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
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      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Peanutrisious

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I can't believe I missed one of your hubs!

      This was very informative and entertaining. I haven't seen any articles like this, so it is very novel.

      I am going to share this!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Kathryn thank you so much! It was great fun to do the research on this! I appreciate your support.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      I enjoyed this hub - all the things we say and mostly don't consider the origin. Entertaining also - thank you

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thank you travmaj. Language has always facinated me. Thanks for reading!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting, Sheri! I wasn't aware of how these sayings came to be.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Rajan. Doing the research was a lot of fun!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I really enjoy reading this hub and I learn many things from you. Good job, my friend. I give my vote to you. Cheers :-)

      Prasetio

    • Gypsy48 profile image

      Gypsy48 4 years ago

      Interesting read. I had never heard of "Bob's your uncle", good research.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Prasetio30 and Gypsy48 Thank you and I am glad you enjoyed it. I am going to do another one with more saying. Thanks for reading this.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Prestio30 and Gypsy48. I appreciate your reading this.

    • profile image

      Wendy Jean 4 years ago

      That was a fun topic. There are also hundreds of Shakespearean sayings we still use in every day language. Nice one.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      I love learning these kinds of things---thank you for writing this! I knew a few but learned a lot...really interesting!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks MrsBrownsParlour. I love learning too...actually when doing research for my hubs I can get so distracted because everything is so interesting! Thank you for reading!

    • profile image

      Dave 4 years ago

      I really liked this one. I have always been interested in word origins, but can never remember whether it's etomology or etymology (probably misspelled both! )LOL!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks for reading and commenting David.

    • profile image

      hlwar 4 years ago

      What a cute hub! Would you believe I've never heard the expression "Let's Make Hay While The Sun Shines" before? Where have I been? ;)

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks hlwar. I am just working on another hub similar to this. The resaerch is such fun!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

      I love this! Some were familiar to me, but others, although I've used the phrases, I did not know the origins. I will never look at feet the same way again!

      Voted up and shared!

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I had never heard "Bob’s your uncle." You got me on that one! A great read. Voted up and interesting.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Quite interesting, and I'm glad to finally learn how the term "Bob's your uncle" came into being. Voted Up+++

      Jaye

    • profile image

      Jason 4 years ago from HighPoint, N.C.

      for this subject, suggested reading is:

      "The Pedant's Revolt" by Andrea Barham

      {this fun book (adult-level reading) has many phrases dispelled (etymologically), & also well known cultural misconceptions that are brought to light.

      - Your hub is Voted-Up!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thank you CurrentScience303, I will check that book out of the library. I am working on the next in this series now and am having so much fun learning about our, sometimes, crazy language.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Marcy, that is funny! Thanks for reading this. I am working on part two of this series now as it is so much fun!

      Your cousins, a few people have said they never heard of Bob's your uncle....maybe it is a Canadian thing. I know it is used a lot in the UK. Thanks for reading this.

      Jaye Wisdom thanks for reading. It has been fun to do the research on this.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for the history of all these! I didn't know about the saying "Bob's your Uncle." I will use it appropriately in creative writing. Thanks for sharing, and passing this on, Sheri!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Midget. I am working on the second in this series as it is so much fun to do the research.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      This is a fun hub! When I was in school, I like to annoy my classmates by saying some of those idiomatic expressions and they'd give me face. Lol! And then, at work years ago my boss would always say, "there you go, Bob's your uncle", in which I'd jokingly reply, "who's bob?" although I know what he means. Lol!

      What enjoyable read! Happy Spring Sheri Faye!

      Up, interesting and sharing!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very enjoyable and entertaining read! I always find it interesting to read about the origins of common phrases. I always found "Bob's Your Uncle". Back in High School I had friends that started a band with that name, and I always thought it was a cool band name.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      @CrisSp Thank you for reading this and commenting. It has been great fun to research and write this. Happy spring to you too!

      @sparticusjones, you are right, that would be a great name for a band! Thanks for reading this, I appreciate it!

    • Annette Hendley profile image

      Annette Hendley 4 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Very interesting. Theater people are very superstitious. There are especially a lot of superstitions around Macbeth performances.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks Annette. I didn't know theater people were more supertitious about Macbeth performances. I wonder why? Thanks for commenting!

    • Annette Hendley profile image

      Annette Hendley 4 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      There are many legends involving the production of Macbeth. Some claim the main actor died just after the premiere, while another has it that an actor was actually killed on stage because they mistakenly used a real dagger instead of the prop. Others said Shakespeare cursed the play because he didn't want anyone but himself to ever direct the play. There is also a legend which claims the witches curse the performance.

      There doesn't seem to be any evidence substantiating any of the legends, but the name Macbeth is still not used in the theater. Actors refer to the Scottish Play when they talk about Macbeth. Some performances also start with three knocks on the stage floor to chase the evil spirits.

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Well well! How interesting! I have learned something and I aapreciate your telling me! Thanks!

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      The chip on the shoulder one really threw me. When I was an angry young man, I should've been carrying two by fours on my shoulders all the time. Voting this up, sharing! Great job Sheri!

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      I am glad the two by fours are gone kasman! Thanks for reading and commenting Kasman.

    • mts1098 profile image

      mts1098 3 years ago from InsideTheManCave

      A great read to some very familiar sayings...thanks and cheers

    • Sheri Faye profile image
      Author

      Sheri Dusseault 3 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Thanks mts1008, I am glad you enjoyed it!

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