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ORIGINS OF ENGLISH WORDS, SAYINGS AND CUSTOMS

Note: Most of these definitions have been disputed by various sources, they should be treated a source of entertainment only, not reference.

In the 1400's a law was set forth that a man was not allowed to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Hence we have "the rule of thumb"

Many years ago in Scotland, a new game was invented. It was ruled "Gentlemen only", "Ladies Forbidden" and thus the word GOLF entered into the language.

In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts.. So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them "Mind your pints and quarts, and settle down." It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's".

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children, last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying "dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a "thresh hold."

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew ha d food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust."

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a "bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer."

NAUTICAL

Between a ship's guns were lip-edged brass trays called monkeys which held pyramid stacks of cannon balls. In cold weather the brass tray would contract faster than the iron cannon balls and the balls would go tumbling on the deck. In this case it was said to be "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey".

In the Royal Navy the punishment prescribed for most serious crimes was flogging. This was administered by the Boatswain's Mate using a whip called a cat o' nine tails. The "cat" was kept in a leather or baize bag. It was considered bad news indeed when the "cat was let out of the bag. " Other sources attribute the expression to the old English market scam of selling someone a pig in a poke (bag) when the pig turned out to be a cat instead.

The entire ship's company was required to witness flogging at close hand. The crew might crowd around so that the Boatswain's Mate might not have enough room to swing his cat o' nine tails, hence "No Room to Swing a Cat"

A ship sailing in shallow water, usually trying to beat the tide, had it's keel grazing the bottom and getting right off again, hence "Touch and Go"

When in port, and with the crew restricted to the ship for any extended period of time, wives and ladies of easy virtue often were allowed to live aboard along with the crew. Not uncommonly, children were born aboard, and a convenient place for this was between guns on the gun deck. If the child's father was unknown, they were entered in the ship's log as "son of a gun".

An interesting fact In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship and it was also before the invention of commercial fertilizers, so large shipments of manure were quite common. It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than when wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, not only did it become heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a by product is methane gas of course. As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen. Methane began to build up below decks and the first time, someone came below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM! Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined just what was happening. After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the instruction 'Stow high in transit' on them, which meant for the sailors to stow it high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane, Thus evolved the term' S,H.I.T', (Stow High In Transit) which has come- down through the centuries and is in use to this very day. You probably did not know the true history of this word. Neither did I, I had always thought it was a golf term.

UNPRINTABLES

The strong British term for testicles, which rhymes with 'frollocks', To talk this word would mean to talk rubbish or to be misinformed, while to say something is 'the dog's...' would suggest it is the best there is.

Legend has it that in the 1950s, construction kits like Meccano would be sold in boxes of various sizes. The list of contents which came with the standard size box would be headed 'Box, Standard' (which elided into 'bog standard' when spoken) and the larger box was the 'Box, Deluxe' which was spoonerised to create the phrase 'The Dog's B s', This is such a satisfying explanation for two common forms of British English usage that one really wants it to be true.

More Links

Sayings and Phrases - meanings and origins phrases.org.uk
Snopes.com Rumour Has It - Urban Legends Reference Pages
So that's why we've been going doolally for donkey's years! How linguistics experts are baffled by English sayings (Daily Mail)

For those who appreciate the finer points of the English language used correctly.

His Lordship was in the study when the butler approached and coughed discreetly.
"May I ask you a question, My Lord?"
"Go ahead, Carson ," said His Lordship.
"I am doing the crossword in The Times and I have found a word I am not too clear on."
"What word is that?" asked His Lordship.
"Aplomb," My Lord.
"Now that's a difficult one to explain. I would say it is self-assurance or complete composure."
"Thank you, My Lord, but I'm still a little confused."
"Let me give you an example to make it clearer. Do you remember a few months ago when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived to spend a weekend with us?"
"I remember the occasion very well, My Lord. It gave the staff and myself much pleasure to look after them."
"Also," continued the Earl of Grantham, "do you remember when Wills plucked a rose for Kate in the rose garden?"
"I was present on that occasion, My Lord, ministering to their needs.
"While plucking the rose, a thorn embedded itself in his thumb very deeply."
"I witnessed the incident, My Lord, and saw the Duchess herself remove the thorn and bandage his thumb with her own dainty handkerchief."
"That evening the hole that the rose made on his thumb was very sore. Kate had to cut up his venison even though it was extremely tender."
"Yes, My Lord, I did see everything that transpired that evening."
"And do you remember the next morning while you were pouring coffee for Her Ladyship,
Kate inquired of Wills with a loud voice, 'Darling, does your prick still throb?'
And you, Carson, did not spill one drop of coffee? THAT, Carson, is complete composure, or aplomb.”