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Where Did THAT Saying Come From, Part 2

Updated on October 22, 2014
Where did that saying come from?!
Where did that saying come from?!
"Beat around the bush"
"Beat around the bush"
"Joined at the hip"
"Joined at the hip"

Sayings and Their Meanings With Origins

There are so many common sayings that we use everyday, but the origins of these sayings are unclear. What does it mean to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" or for it to "joined at the hip"? I published a first article that looked at sayings like "axe to grind", "no spring chicken", and "throw in the towel", and enjoyed the research so much that I decided to write another. Enjoy the beginnings of the sayings below.

1. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water-- The most common theory about where this saying came from says it originated in the early 1500s during a time when water was drawn for baths very rarely. When people bathed, water was drawn and heated, the father of the home bathed first, then the wife, then the children down to the youngest. Because people did not bathe often, the water became quite dirty, and it was thought that a baby could get lost in the filthy tub, hence being forgotten and thrown out when the wife threw out the water. This does not appear to be the origin, however. The first known use of the phrase was found in a German book in 1512 by Thomas Murner called Narrenbeschworung, and was meant to be a memorable mental image speaking against the problems of over reacting. The phrase, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" warns the listener to not throw out an entire idea just because part of it is faulty.

2. Beat around the bush: This saying implies that a person is talking around an issue and not stating the actual fact or the real truth. The person is implying something. The probable origin of this saying is said to come from a method of hunting in the 1400s and 1500s where a person would hire others to beat around a bush where a boar or game birds were hiding. This would allow the hunter to have a better view of the animal when it ran out of the bush.

3. On the ball: This phrase is used to mean that someone is at their best at something (i.e. He is "on the ball" with his schoolwork.) This term tends to date back to the early 1900s when baseball pitchers put something special on their pitched ball like a spin or a curve. Another way it was used was when the coach reminded the player to keep their eye on the ball. When a ball player "kept their eye on the ball", they performed well. The phrase became used outside of ball games.

4. Dead as a Doornail: There are a few theories about where this saying comes from, but the one most thought to be true originated in the14th century. It was suggested that nails hammered into doors were so well hammered in that they could not be taken out and reused at any time. Nails were said to be "clinched" or hammered flat to strengthen the door, therefore the nails found their final resting place in the doors.

5. As mad as a hatter: This saying means "utterly insane". A common theory to the origin of this saying is that "hatters" or hat makers often used mercury in making felt hats. The frequent use of mercury often led to mercury poisoning, which caused insanity.

6. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey: Obviously this phrase means that it is extremely cold. It has been indicated that as early as the early 1600s, cannons on ships were called brass monkeys and young boys who helped load the cannons on ships were called "powder monkeys". The monkey tail was a lever used to aim the cannon. Early use of this term actually referred to heat instead of cold. In Herman Melville's novel, Ornoo, written in 1847, it was written, "It was 'ot enough to melt the nose h'off a brass monkey." In 1868, a newspaper was seen to state, "hasn't got as much brains as a brass monkey". Other phrases were noted before the most current, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

7. To go postal: This phrase indicates that a person is flying into a rage. The term originated in the early 1990s after a series of incidents that included postal service workers shooting and killing others. The first incident took place in August of 1986 during which a postal worker shot 20 people, killing 14 and wounding 6. All total, there were more than 40 deaths in 20 incidents. The term was first recorded in the St. Pete Times in Florida in December of 1993.

8. Give me the heebie jeebies: This term is used to mean someone having a feeling of fright or anxiety. The term appears to date back to the early 1920s during a time when nonsense rhyming pairs were being made up. The term is attributed to a cartoonist named Willie Morgan de Beck who used it in a cartoon in 1923.

9. There's no such thing as a free lunch: This term means you can't get anything for free. It seems to go back to early 1800s when lunches were advertised as free by saloon keepers who were trying to attract drinkers. A free lunch came after buying a drink. It was indicated that these people paid for the food in the price of the drink, hence, "there's no such thing as a free lunch".

10. Joined at the hip: This term is used to mean two people who are inseparable. It comes from conjoined twins or "Siamese twins" who are joined by a particular body part, but interstingly, not usually the hip. The first conjoined twins to gain notoriety were Chang and Eng Bunker from Siam (hence the term Siamese twins) who were shown in P.T. Barnum's circus. They lived from 1811-1874.


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    • profile image

      Kalyn 3 years ago

      We need a lot more inishgts like this!

    • profile image

      Nikki 3 years ago

      Theresa this is so helpful!! As a new small olnnie store it is difficult to stand out from the rest and setting a brand for my store has been difficult..until I made that canvas for my store header now it is the stores 'brand' and I can hopefully keep moving forward from here

    • fjohn profile image

      fjohn 5 years ago from india

      great hub dear..... very good information...

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime

      This is amusing, yet sad for the poor children who had to endure nasty, adult water:

      "When people bathed, water was drawn and heated, the father of the home bathed first, then the wife, then the children down to the youngest. Because people did not bathe often, the water became quite dirty, and it was thought that a baby could get lost in the filthy tub, hence being forgotten and thrown out when the wife threw out the water."

      In those days children were last in everything, even eating. I suppose someone finally realized that the innocent children were the future and deserved more care and respect.

      I love these old sayings! Thanks for sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      The postal saying is surprising. Wouldn't have guessed it was literally stating what happened. I was wondering the other day what beat around the bush meant. Your hub has answered many questions for me.

    • profile image

      John Herron 6 years ago

      Thanks Wendy. Words can be a lot of fun, especially when someone uses them wrong. It's fun to take English litterally too.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Just as great as the first hub you wrote about "sayings" we use in everyday language without knowing how did they get there and what was their initial meaning. Fascinating hub, thank you Wendy. I hope you will keep up the series

    • TripleAMom profile image

      TripleAMom 6 years ago from Florida

      Hi Rajan, thanks for reading. Would love to know another theory for some. I read a few thoughts from some before going to some etymology websites and Snopes. Snopes was the main piece of info for #1. Did you read that it is NOT the baby and bathwater theory but the German book that coined the phrase? Anyway, please give different explanations if you know. Would love to hear them. Thanks for reading.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting. TripleAMom. I'm glad to read the origins of these sayings some of them interesting though maybe incorrect like No 1 of this list.

      I'm glad to have learnt a bit of history.

      Thanks. Voted up, interesting.

    • TripleAMom profile image

      TripleAMom 6 years ago from Florida

      Thanks Billy, glad "school" can be fun. I have really enjoyed reading these origins. It's fun to look up different sources and find way out there ideas, then look up etymology sources for more down to earth ideas. Thanks for coming by.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I feel like I'm in school again except this time I'm enjoying the lesson taught to me. Great hub and really, really interesting.


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