In the process of learning the English language, encountering idiomatic expressions is quite inevitable. Considering how interwoven these phrases are to everyday conversations, understanding and learning how to use them can be an interesting way to study the language. Still, as useful as they may be, it doesn’t change the fact that a number of these idioms are plainly and honestly bizarre to non-native speakers. Here are some examples:
Break a leg
Meaning: Good luck.
Origin: This strange way of wishing someone luck originated from the theater superstition of saying good luck having the opposite effect, and thus also meaning that such a phrase would reverse the curse.
Meaning: To suddenly stop an addicting activity, such as smoking or drinking alcohol without preparation.
Origin: Possibly originated from the goose-bumps and cold sweats that a person with withdrawal symptoms suffers.
Cat got your tongue
Meaning: A statement addressed to a person who is uncharacteristically quiet or at a loss for words.
Origin: One possible origin might be the Cat-o’-nine-tails that the old English Navy used for beating, which apparently caused so much pain the person would stay quiet for a while. Another is an old custom in ancient Egypt where liars’ tongues were cut off and fed to the cats.
Under the weather
Meaning: To feel sick or unwell.
Origin: This is a phrase that was originally used in old sailing ships. Back then when the number of sick sailors got so high that they ran out of space for listing the names in their log, these sick sailors were then listed on the log meant for recording the weather. Thus, they are ‘under the weather’.
Wipe the floor (with someone)
Meaning: To defeat someone easily
Origin: From the ‘A dictionary of slang, jargon and cant’ by Barrère and Leland (1897), meaning that someone has beaten another person so completely that he might as well have used him to clean the floor.
Meaning: To sit next to the driver.
Origin: This came from the time when stagecoaches were the main method of transportation. The seat next to the driver is given to the protector who would be holding a shotgun in order to ward off any bandits.
Bite the bullet
Meaning: To face or accept something disagreeable
Origin: Originated back in WWWI when field doctors were short on anesthesia. Patients had to literally bite down on a bullet to distract them from the pain of being operated on.
Mad as a hatter
Meaning: To be crazy.
Origin: This idiom was coined due to the poisonous effects of mercury used by hatters for hat felts which caused symptoms that made them appear insane.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
Meaning: Don’t throw away or get rid of important things along with the useless ones.
Origin: From the 1500s when people only bathed once a year and held the practice of not changing the bathwater. The adult males would bathe first followed by the females, then the children and finally the babies. By the time it would be the babies’ turn, the water would be so murky that the mothers would have to be careful not to accidentally throw the babies out with it.
Sources & References:
Jordan Hake (2017). 10 Strange Idioms. Retrieved from https://owlcation.com/humanities/10-Strange-Idioms
Global Graduates (2014). 20 bizarre English idioms and how to explain them. Retrieved from https://globalgraduates.com/articles/20-bizarre-english-idioms-and-how-to-explain-them
bachelorsdegree.org (2011). 30 Common, English Idioms and the History Behind Them. Retrieved from http://www.bachelorsdegree.org/2011/01/30/30-common-english-idioms-and-the-history-behind-them/
Anais John (2015). 14 Expressions with Crazy Origins that You Would Never Have Guessed. Retrieved from https://www.grammarly.com/blog/14-expressions-with-crazy-origins-that-you-would-never-have-guessed/
Barrère and Leland (1897). A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/booksid=1NjWAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA61&hl=en&ei=TnAlTrmUO8bu0gH-opTnCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA