Thursday, September 24, 2009

Roots and Origins

The English language is filled with sayings and cliches that most of us use on a regular basis. But have you ever wondered where those sayings came from?

Well, I have. In fact, I've recently spent quite a lot of time googling that very thing (part of the research for my book) and I've learned some weird and crazy things.

(Warning: I've tried to verify as much as I can, but this is still coming from the internet so it's possibly unreliable. I wouldn't quote me on this without looking into it further.)

"Frog in your throat"- Has nothing to do with the croaky quality your voice gets when you experience this particular phenomenon, but rather is a reference to a medieval medical practice where a live frog's head was placed in the patient's mouth. Apparently they believed the frog would inhale the infection and draw it away from the patient. (To which I have to say, "Ew," and I'm glad they don't do that anymore.)

"In the limelight"- Limelight was an amazingly bright white light that used an intense oxygen-hydrogen flame through a lime cylinder. At first it was used in lighthouses, but later the theater began using the limelight like a spotlight to direct the audience's attention to a certain actor, generally the star of the show.

"Go Berserk"- Viking warriors were extremely ferocious in battle (possibly due to a pre-battle ritual of consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms) and they generally fought wearing bearskins. The Old Norse pronunciation of bear skin was "berserkr," which eventually came to be associated with the crazy, ruthless fighting style of the Vikings.

"Hack"- In Victorian England the Hackney cart or "hack" was a carriage for hire. It was considered a low occupation, and eventually the word "hack" became associated with anyone who plies their trade strictly for cash.

"Long in the Tooth" - As horses age their gums recede, giving the impression that their teeth are longer. Thus an old, worn-out horse was "long in the tooth." Related to this is the saying "Never look a gift horse in the mouth," meaning it would be rude to check the teeth (and thus the quality) of a horse given for free.

"Daylight Robbery" or "Tax the Daylight" - This really was an actual tax, instituted in England by William III and was a tax on glass, specifically windows. Naturally the tax was despised, viewed as taking the very daylight and air from their lives, and many windows were bricked up either in protest or because the owner couldn't afford to pay. (I've actually seen the bricked up windows in the South Bank of London, where they were preserved for their history).

I could go on and on, but I think that's enough for now. If you enjoyed this let me know...there's plenty more where that came from.

Have a good day everyone!


  1. Yay! Another person who loves words. Word nerds unite!

  2. I love this post! And the history of where sayings come from. I had no idea that is where Berserk came from.


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