- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- Commercial & Creative Writing
Gird Up Your Loins and Other Idioms
When Nigel, Art Stylist Director of Runway played by Stanley Tucci in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” announced and screamed out to the staff that Miranda Priestly, Runway Fashion Editor played by Meryl Streep is coming, he brilliantly say this famous one liner: Alright, Everyone, “Gird up your loins!” this made me curious and look for the meaning of this idiom.
I found that "Gird Up your Loins" is defined as to get ready to do something and often used for major tasks or jobs.
We can trace the origin of this phrase from the Semitic tribes of antiquity that roamed and dwelled in the Orient, who wore loose-fitting robes against the heat of the desert. Whenever they traveled or worked in the fields, they had to tighten or grid their robes about their loins. Otherwise, their loose fitting garments would interfere with their freedom of motion.
It was therefore common practice for the early inhabitants of the Orient to wrap their flowing robes around their loins before they went to work - 'girding up their loins"
Today we use idioms as part of our conversations or writing without realizing that they don’t make sense if taken literally, sometimes we forgot that if someone who is not familiar with them will be totally confused of what we meant.
I am sure you and I will agree that without idioms our English language will be boring. Idioms dress up and give spice to our writings and the way we talk. But few realize that most idioms has its own unique origin.
Here are some idioms, which you may have use in one way or another and did not realized that it has its own story to tell. I hope you will find this collection useful and fascinating.
1. Apple of my eye
It was believed as long ago as the ninth century that the pupil of the eye was a vital spot in the human anatomy. Primitive medical curiosity about it caused the early healers to study the pupil as closely as they could.
They concluded that it was apple shaped and so it became popularly known as "the apple of the eye”.
Because the pupil was considered as vital as life itself, it became customary for a gallant hero to call the object of his affections “ the apple of my eye.”
The first recorded data concerning the phenomenon of the "honeymoon' is found among the early writings of the Northern European countries. newly married couples were required - actually compelled - to drink from one full moon to the next full moon ( about 30 days), a wine derived from fermented honey and water and called metheglin.
It was believed that a thirty day diet of metheglin furnished newlyweds with sufficient sweetness to carry out their marriage vows forever. Some of the newlyweds took their metheglin intake so seriously that they perished from it.
That was the fate of Attila, the great warrior, who imbibed so much honey at his wedding feast that he drank himself to death.
3. Baker's Dozen
When you buy a dozen rolls and get thirteen, you have a "baker's dozen." Baking was among the first industries subjected to governmental control and regulation. Soon after the baking profession was established, the King of England found it necessary to regulate it. The first public bakers put on the market unhealthy products of short weight and count.
To fix this evil exorbitant fines were imposed upon wayward bakers. The bakers, in response and to ensure avoiding clashes with the law, gave thirteen to the dozen.
From this practice we derived the happy" baker's dozen," an early example of government involvement in business.
4. Rule of Thumb
When we use established past practices as a guideline for making a decision, we often refer to "rules of thumb".
In 1732 Francis Buller , an English judge, proclaimed that "a man could not beat his wife with a stick larger than the diameter of his thumb." Regardless of Buller's intention, his "rule of thumb' was taken seriously by many, resulting in a large public outcry accompanied by satirical cartoons. The remark was never forgotten, as it was attributed to him in biographies written after his death.
While Buller is credited with the phrase's origin, in reality it was probably used much earlier: The "thumb" was a unit of measurement in the late seventeenth century.
5. When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do
One of the first great men in history to recognize the social value of majority rule was the famous churchman St. Augustine.
When St Augustine dispatched St Ambrose from Milan to Rome. Ambrose was puzzled about the proper day on which to fast, for, in Rome, it was then the custom to fast on Saturday. He asked St Augustine which fast day to observe. The learned Augustine remarked, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." because these words of St Augustine were both wise and practical they have become one of the world's noblest maxims.
6. Jack of All Trades
This common phrase is a shortened version of "jack of all trades and master of none". It refers to those who claim to be proficient at countless tasks but cannot perform a single one of them well.
The phrase was first used in England at the start of the Industrial Revolution. A large number of efficiency experts set up shop in London, advertising themselves as knowledgeable about every type of new manufacturing process, trade and business. For a substantial consideration, they would impart their knowledge to their retainers. But when they were retained, it soon became evident that their knowledge was limited and of no practical value. Wary industrialists started calling these self-appointed experts "jack of all trades and masters of none".
We still have a lot of these experts and so is the phrase.
7. Making Ends Meet
This phrase is often associated with an inability to stay afloat financially. Who would have thought that a phrase that now applies to the continual economic struggles of common folks would evolved from the ordeal connected with obtaining the funds necessary to dress as well-heeled lady properly?
To be dressed properly during the 18th and 19th centuries often required assistance in pulling together the two ends of the lady's corset and then bucking it when both ends met. Her dress would not hand properly unless a helper, had hooked together numerous latchets and hooks and eyes, all of which required tedious and cautious pulling to "make the ends meet."
Even a lady's shoes and galoshes of yesteryears were equipped with leather thongs, the ends of which had to be brought together before they could be buckled. from all this strenuous effort of pulling corsets, dresses and shoes together came the phrase "making ends meet."
At first the expression referred simply to the physical ordeal accompanying a lady getting dressed up. As the cost of her ensemble increased and the difficulty in putting it together diminished, "making end meet" came to refer to the financial ordeal connected with gathering the funds necessary to dress a lady properly
8. Raining Cats and Dogs
Whenever there's a heavy rain pour, the common phrase we all use is "it is raining cats and dogs". Little did we know that we're talking a page out of ancient northern mythology.
In the myths of the Teutons, an ancient people of either Germanic or Celtic origin who occupied Jutland around 100 B.C. the wind was envisioned as a huge dog that served as chief attendant to Odin, the Norse god of wisdom and war who was responsible for the cosmos. The Teutons believed that when it rained very hard, Odin's dog (in the form of the wind) was chasing a cat (which took the form of the rain). When it poured then Odin was dropping " cats and dogs" from the sky.
Though science has proved that it is wrong, but when we're drenched with rain we still revert to the ancient Teutons and mutter , "It is raining cats and dogs."
9. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue sea
When someone is in a situation from which he cannot save himself we say that he's "between the devil and the deep blue sea."
It was one Colonel Munro who coined this phrase while serving for Sweden against Austria in the Thirty Years' war.
At one point in the advance Colonel Munro, because the Swedes had not given their cannon sufficient elevation, found his troops moving toward the Austrians in the direct line of fire of their own battery divisions to the rear.
He quickly dispatched a messenger to the commanding Swedish battery officer with the note: "Raise your cannons, we are between the devil and the deep blue sea." The cannons were raised and the battle was won.
Ever since, between the devil and the deep blue sea has been a handy phrase used to by people when caught on the horns of a dilemma.
Reference: Korach, Myron, Common phrases and where they come from, The Lyons Press, Connecticut, 2002.