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10 Common Sayings and Their Origins

The English language is full of fascinating sayings and phrases. Many of them have been passed down through generations, and some can be traced back to specific sources. Here are ten of the most common sayings and their origins.

10- Turn a Blind Eye

10 Common Sayings and Their Origins

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The phrase “turn a blind eye” is believed to have originated with an incident involving Horatio Nelson, a British admiral during the Napoleonic Wars. During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Nelson ignored explicit orders from his superior and instead used his own judgment to make a strategic decision.  It is said that Nelson raised his telescope to his blind eye and declared, “I really do not see the signal.”

Since then, the phrase has been used to describe a situation where someone deliberately chooses to ignore certain facts or events. It can be used to describe someone who is deliberately ignoring an unpleasant situation, or someone who is turning a blind eye to something they don’t want to address.

9- Bury The Hatchet

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The phrase “bury the hatchet” has its origins in a Native American custom. When two tribes wanted to make peace, they would literally bury a hatchet, or tomahawk, in the ground as a sign of their truce. The act of burying the hatchet was a way of putting aside their differences and showing that they wanted to start anew.

Today, the phrase “bury the hatchet” is used to refer to any situation where two people or groups put aside their differences and move on. It is often used to signify a genuine effort to start over without any grudges or resentment. It is a way of letting go of the past and beginning anew with a clean slate.

8- Barking Up The Wrong Tree

The phrase is likely derived from the concept of hunting dogs chasing a fox or other animal up a tree and barking at the wrong one. The phrase is meant to indicate that the person is wasting their time and energy chasing something that will not lead to a successful outcome. This phrase is often used to refer to someone who is pursuing an incorrect solution to a problem or is chasing a false hope.

7- Worth The Salt

The phrase “worth its salt” is an idiom that dates back to Roman times and is used to refer to something that is of high quality or value. The phrase originates from the practice of Roman soldiers being paid with salt, which was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. In Latin, the phrase “valere ad sal” was used to describe the worth of a soldier and could be translated as “worth its salt.”

Over the centuries, the phrase has evolved to mean something that is valuable and of high quality in any context. For example, if you have a car that is reliable and runs well, you might say it is “worth its salt.” If you have a friend who always has your back and is a true confidante, you might say they are “worth their salt.”

6- Can’t Hold A Candle

The phrase “can’t hold a candle to” is used to express that someone or something is not nearly as good as another person or thing. It is thought to have originated from the time when people used candles for light, and thus a candle holder was required to ensure that the candle stayed lit. It was a position of importance and so to say someone “couldn’t hold a candle” to another meant that they weren’t a capable person for the job.

5- Caught Red Handed

The phrase “caught red-handed” is an idiom that means to be caught in the act of committing a crime or doing something wrong. The phrase is believed to have originated in Scotland in the 1600s, where it was used to describe someone being discovered with the blood of their victim still on their hands. This phrase has since become a widely used expression, often used to describe someone who is caught in the act of doing something wrong or illegal.

4- Crocodile Tears

10 Common Sayings and Their Origins

“Crocodile tears” is one of the most common sayings and is used to refer to a false display of emotion that is insincere and dishonest. Its origin dates back to medieval times when it was believed that crocodiles would weep before devouring their victims. This belief was based on the observation that crocodiles would shed tears before eating, as the tears help them keep their eyes clean.

The phrase can also be used to describe someone who is pretending to be sad or upset in order to manipulate another person. For instance, a person might shed “crocodile tears” in order to gain sympathy or to get what they want. In such cases, the person’s true motivations are often transparent, as the display of emotion is often exaggerated and insincere.

3- Cat Got Your Tongue

Have you ever been in a situation where you were so shocked or surprised that you found yourself unable to respond? If so, you’ve probably heard someone utter the phrase “cat got your tongue?” This phrase is a popular saying that is used to prompt a response from someone who is seemingly silent or speechless.

 A “cat o’ nine tails” (a whip with nine knotted cords) would be used to flay the skin off of the offender’s back and, in some cases, the tongue would be cut out as well. The phrase “cat got your tongue?” could be used to suggest that someone was being unusually quiet because they had their tongue removed by a cat o’ nine tails.

2- Hands Down

10 Common Sayings and Their Origins

The phrase “Hands Down” is believed to have originated in the world of horse racing. It is thought to have been first used to describe a horse that was so far ahead of the competition that the rider could easily lower their hands (or “hands down”) and still win the race. The phrase was later adopted by other sports and began to take on a more figurative meaning, being used to describe an unbeatable situation, or a decisive victory.

Today, the phrase “hands down” is often used to describe something that is unquestionably the best or most impressive. It is also used to describe an easy victory, or a situation that is so obvious that there is no need for debate. For example, if someone were to say that their favorite band is “hands down” the best, it would mean that in their opinion, there is no other band that can compete. 

1- Bite The Bullet

10 Common Sayings and Their Origins

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The phrase “bite the bullet” is amongst most common sayings used to mean accepting a difficult situation or doing something unpleasant or daunting. It is likely that the phrase originated from the 1800s, when a soldier undergoing surgery without anesthesia was given a bullet to bite on to distract from the pain. This phrase was used as a metaphor for facing tough situations with courage and accepting them with dignity.

Today, we often use the phrase “bite the bullet” when we refer to decisions that we don’t necessarily want to make, but have to accept and move forward with. We may use it to describe taking a job we don’t necessarily want, or doing something that we don’t particularly enjoy. It can also refer to the courage to face a difficult situation head-on, rather than running away from it. 

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