Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ten Origins of Common Expressions And Their Modern Meanings


Balls To The Wall

Meaning: Pushed to the limit.
Origin: It derives from aviation. The ‘balls’ sat on top of the levers controlling the throttle and fuel mixtures. Pushing them forward toward the front wall of the cockpit made the plane go faster.
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Take A Piss

Meaning: To ridicule someone.
Origin: One of the least desirable jobs was to collect human urine for the cloth-dying industry. Anyone in this line of work would be inclined to lie about what they did for a living. Anyone suspecting the truth might ask if he was, in actual fact, ‘taking the piss’.
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Steal One's Thunder

Meaning: To do something that takes attention away from what someone else has done.
Origin: The 18th century playwright John Dennis claimed to have invented a machine that could mimic the sound of thunder in the theatre. When rivals used the same trick, he complained they’d 'stolen his thunder'.
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Pull The Cat Out Of The Bag

Meaning: Divulge a secret.
Origin: In times gone by, farmers would bring suckling pigs to market wrapped up in a bag. Unscrupulous ones would substitute a cat for the pig. If someone let the cat out of the bag, the deceit was uncovered.
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Round Robin

Meaning: A document signed by multiple parties.
Origin: ‘Robin’ is a corruption of the French ruban, meaning ribbon. These petitions were originally signed in a circle so that no single person’s name appeared at the top. The shape of the signatures resembled a circular ribbon.
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Pull Out All The Stops

Meaning: Achieve the maximum.
Origin: The ‘stops’ are knobs on an organ console. If the organist pulled them all out, he would be squeezing the most volume out of the instrument possible.
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My Ears Are Burning

Meaning: I can hear someone talking about me.
Origin: It goes back to the ancient Romans, who had a strange obsession with burning sensations in various organs. If your left ear tingled, it signaled evil intent from outside influences. If your right ear tingled, you were being praised or were in line for some good luck.
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Keep Mum

Meaning: Remain silent.
Origin: Nothing to do with mothers. It’s derived from the German word for mumble, mummeln. Hundreds of years ago people played a dice game called mumchance, which was played in complete silence.
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Hell For Leather

Meaning: At top speed.
Origin: A horse that had been ridden fast used to be called ‘all of a lather’. Over time this got intensified to the more potent-sounding ‘hell for leather’.
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Gone Haywire
Meaning: In a mess.
Origin: In frontier towns of the United States, wire would be taken from hay bales and used for domestic jobs, such as hanging clothes or binding the stove together. A ‘haywire’ camp was one that was poor, backward, or slovenly.
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Get One's Goat

Meaning: Irritate.

Origin: It’s a horse racing term. Nervous horses could be calmed down by placing a goat in the stall with them. Dastardly rival horse owners would sometimes steal, or ‘get’, these goats, thereby upsetting the horse and making it likely to lose the race.

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