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Friday, August 2, 2019

Idioms and Their Meanings with Sources Noted by Warren Bull

Idioms and Their Meanings with Sources Noted by Warren Bull

Image from Kyle Glen at Upsplash

Whole kit and caboodle means the entire amount of things or the entire group of people being discussed.
The word kit in the phrase the whole kit and caboodle is a reference to a soldier’s kit, which is the collection of supplies and personal items that a soldier carries with him. The word caboodle in the phrase the whole kit and caboodle is an alliteration of the word boodle. Boodleappears in the United States in the 1830s to mean a crowd of people, later evolving to mean a large amount of ill-gotten money

Pardon my French is defined as to excuse cursing.

The phrase stated in the 19th century literally as an excuse given by someone using a French expression who did not speak French. It expanded in meaning after that.

Cat got your tongue? When someone does not speak.
Some say it's just a light-hearted image, whilst others favor the idea that it's a reference to sailors being punished with the cat o'nine tails

Chew the fat means to chat.
The phrase refers to sailors chewing salted beef and pork on deck whilst they complained about life.

Under the weather reflects feeling ill or tired.
In days of yore on ye olde sailing ships, the number of sick sailors often exceeded the space in the log to list their names. When this happened, the excess names of the sick were recorded in the column usually reserved for noting down the weather conditions. Hence 'under the weather.’

A piece of cake means easy. 
It's thought that this phrase originates from the 1870s; in some parts of the USA at the time, slaves would participate in a game where couples would perform a dance imitating the mannerisms of their masters. The most graceful couple would receive cake as a prize.

My neck of the woods means the area where I live.

A 'neck' could originally be a narrow stretch of wood, pasture or marsh, for example. This then evolved to refer to a settlement in a wooded country and then more generally to a neighbourhood.

Thick as thieves refers to close friends who share each others' confidences

In the 18th century, 'thick' was used to mean 'closely allied with,’ and thieves were thought to be people who were generally conspiratorial. Pretty simple really.

Pot calling the kettle black is a way of mentioning hypocrisy.

There are a couple of theories, but they're not wildly different. The first states that both old-fashioned (e.g. cast-iron) pots and kettles turn black on the bottom when hung over a fire, and so the pot would be accusing the kettle of a fault it shares. The second theory is a tad more convoluted. It states that a cast-iron pot would be sooty (having been placed on a fire to warm), whilst a kettle would remain clean and shiny (being placed on coals only). Thus, when the pot accuses the kettle of being black, it is the pot's own dirty reflection that it sees.

Break a leg, contrary to how it sounds, is actually a wish for success
for a performer about to go onstage.
The earliest citation I can find in print of 'break a leg' in the theatrical sense is from as late as 1948, from an edition of the US newspaper The Charleston Gazette in May of that year. This is from their 'Ask The Gazette' column:
Q. What are some of the well-known superstitions of the theatre?
A. Superstitions of the stage are numerous and many are particular to individual actors and actresses. That it is bad luck to whistle in a dressing room is a widely accepted belief. Another is that one actor should not wish another good luck before a performance but say instead 'I hope you break a leg.'
Note: Another explanation is that it refers to bending a leg when taking a bow.

Bad hair day:  a day when everything seems to go wrong.

It comes from the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Buffy is confronted by a one-armed vampire foolishly enough to attack her, she says with mock sympathy “You’re obviously having a bad hair day.” Then she slays him.

A tinker’s damn is a synonym for worthless.

It referred to a tinkers curse considered to be of little significance
because tinkers were reputed to swear habitually.

A little bird told me states I was told by a private source
The text 'a little bird told me' doesn't appear in any version of the Bible, but the root source of this expression probably is biblical, from Ecclesiastes 10-20 (King James Version)
"Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter."

Have no truck with is defined as rejecting or having nothing to do with.

We are all familiar with trucks as carts and road vehicles, but that's not what's being referred to in 'have no truck with'. This 'truck' is the early French word 'troque,’ which meant 'an exchange; a barter' and came into Middle English as 'truke.’ The first known record of truke is the Vintner's Company Charter in the Anglo-Norman text of the Patent Roll of Edward III, 1364. This relates to a transaction for some wine, which was to be done 'by truke, or by exchange.’
What are some of your favorite idioms?


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I'm not touching that with a ten-foot barge pole.

carla said...

This is fascinating, Warren. "Six of one, half dozen of the other" which my husband convolutes to "Half of one, six dozen of the other..."

KM Rockwood said...

Fascinating, Warren. I can get lost in looking up interesting idioms, only to realize later I've spent a good deal of my limited "writing time" on it.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Love this kind of history. Thanks for posting, Warren.

Jake Devlin said...

Thanks for all these, Warren.

Not exactly an idiom, but the author Lawrence Sanders sneaks this phrase into each of his McNally novels: He/she/it "gasted my flabber," so I've been playing with variants on that, like "smacked my gob," "cocked my poppy," and some others I've forgotten as I write this. (I really should make better use of my notepad.)