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10 Idioms and Their Interesting Origin

We quite often use idioms in our day-to-day life without even giving a thought about their interesting origin. Read on to find out amusing theories behind some popular idioms.

candle
Can’t hold a candle to
Meaning: to be inferior to someone
Origin: When there was no electricity, the apprentices would hold candle for their master-craftsmen. Since they were considered inferior to the masters, the idiom means that someone lacks something in comparison to the other.

bucket
To kick the bucket
Meaning: to die
Origin: After slaughtering, the pigs are hung on a rail called “bucket bar”. Sometimes, the dead pig would twitch because of muscle spasms. This led to kicking the bucket bar.

cat
Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: to reveal a secret or hidden agenda
Origin: In the Medieval times, some traders would cheat the customer by selling them a cat instead of a pig. They would place the cat in a bag. The conned customer would realize that he had been cheated only when the cat came out of the bag in place of the pig, they had paid for.

pq
Mind your Ps and Qs
Meaning: to control your behavior and manners
Origin: In the early days, ale and beer were served in quart and pint containers in the pubs. A tab was kept on the board to maintain the consumption of pints and quarts. Therefore, to mind ps and qs means to keep a check on the alcohol consumption, one’s language and behavior.

bush
Beat about/around the bush
Meaning: not to confront something/someone directly
Origin: It is likely that this idiom was derived from the hunting techniques. Unarmed men would walk through the forest making noise and beating the branches of trees. This way they could avoid direct approach to the animals.

catsanddogs
Raining cats and dogs
Meaning: to rain heavily
Origin: It is supposed that earlier cats and dogs used to live on the roof-tops. During heavy downpour they would wash down from there.

poker
Pass the buck
Meaning: to not take up the responsibility by passing it to someone else.
Origin: In the 19th century, poker was a popular game. A marker or “buck” was placed next to the dealer to avoid any unfairness. This buck was passed on to the next one to deal the cards or take the responsibility.

cockbull
Cock and bull story
Meaning: concocted story/untrue
Origin: A popular theory suggests that in the village of Buckinghamshire, there were two inns The Cock and The Bull. Passengers and coachmen would exchange concocted news and outlandish anecdotes in these inns.

greek
Beware Greeks bearing gifts
Meaning: to be cautious when an unsympathetic person appears sympathetic
Origin: In Aeneid, Greek play by Virgil, Laocoon cautions Trojans not to take the wooden horse from te Greeks. It was this horse that proved fatal to them.

skeleton
Skeleton in the cupboard
Meaning: a scandal, secret or a hidden disgrace
Origin: In the 19th century, the corpses were in great demand for medical research. It was not obtainable legally. So, the skeletons were kept hidden, possibly in the closet or cupboard.

I hope it was not all “Greek and Latin” to you. Wonder where that idiom came from!!!

1 response to 10 Idioms and Their Interesting Origin

  1. I liked both the explanations and the illustrations of the idioms, very easy to remember that way. Thank you.

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