The history behind the idiom

Some common idioms and their (debatable) history

Idioms are really common English expressions that can be used in formal and informal situations. They're quite challenging to learn because the meaning of the whole idiom, all of the words together, often doesn't relate to the literal meaning of the individual words.

Why does English have so many idiomatic expressions?

There are thousands of idioms, occurring frequently in all languages, but it is estimated that there are at least twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language. A long way to go!

Riding shotgun

To ride in the front passenger seat of a vehicle, next to the driver. From the wild wild west days, riding shotgun was used to describe the guard who rode alongside a stagecoach driver, ready to use his shotgun to ward off bandits.


Flying off the handle

Becoming enraged suddenly and unexpectedly.Refers to the uncontrolled way a loose axe-head flies off from its handle.


Let the cat out of the bag

Reveal a secret carelessly or by mistake. Historically, a common street fraud included replacing valuable pigs with less valuable cats and selling them in bags. When a cat was let out of a bag, the game was up.

Another possible origin could be that The ‘Cat’ referenced is the ‘Cat O’ Nine Tails. This was a whip stored in a leather bag aboard sailing vessels. Talking about something that should be kept secret would be described as not letting the cat of the bag.


Bite the bullet

Decide to do something difficult or unpleasant that you have been putting off or hesitating over. Patients would literally bite on a bullet to cope with the pain of having surgery before anaesthesia was common. Apparently.


Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

To discard something valuable while disposing of something considered worthless. The phrase is often used as a warning against thoughtless behaviour. This idiom allegedly comes from a time when the household bathed in the same water; first, the lord would bathe, then the men, the lady, the women, the children, and the babies last. The bath water is said to have been so dirty that there was a risk of throwing the baby out with the water once everyone was done bathing.


Turn a blind eye

To pretend not to notice. This is said to originate with Admiral Horatio Nelson, who allegedly looked through his telescope using his blind eye to avoid acknowledging signals from his superior telling him to withdraw from battle. I want this one to be true!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: