Quotes and Sayings – Where Do They Come From? 

Ever wondered why you have a ‘frog in your throat’ or why you are ‘in a pickle?’ We use quotes and sayings without thinking, but what are their origins?

The Origins of Common Quotes and Sayings

All of us use quotes and sayings in our everyday language and conversation. However, do we ever stop to think just where they originate from, or what they mean? Here are a few interesting, bizarre, but well-known common phrases that have stood the test of time and are still in use today.

To Eat Humble Pie

While the Master of a household would have the best cuts of meat, the servants would eat ‘umble pie’, a pie made from the offcuts of a deer. Similar to the rich/poor divide ‘theme’ is the origin of the saying ‘upper crust’. This refers to the bread after baking in the oven: the bottom would be charred and burned after being in direct contact with the heat, whereas the top of the bread would be untouched and unmarred. The household divide would mean that the poor servants would get the bottom, while the Master, his family and guests would received the ‘upper crust’.

‘Alas, Poor Yorick! I Knew Him, Horatio’

Frequently misquoted but well-known, this quote comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet quotes this when he finds the skull of Yorick, the court Jester who used to entertain him as a child. He remembers his joviality and now sees a stinking skull, reminding him of life’s fragility. Hamlet is probably one of the most well known of Shakespeare’s plays, as it is replete with ponderings and philosophies of life that are as relevant now as they were then.

To be Lily-Livered

The liver – not the heart – was once thought to be the part of the body where romantic feelings were positioned. A cowardly man was said to have no blood flowing to his liver, therefore leaving it pale, bloodless and ‘Lily’ white. If a man was called lily-livered then he would be viewed as undesirable by the opposite sex.

Making Ends Meet

Nowadays, a saying that is usually associated with being in financial difficulties. However, the saying originated from the time when ladies wore corsets. The lady would need to be assisted in order to ‘make the ends meet’ of her corset. The phrase simply referred to the difficulties that existed when dressing a lady elegantly. The phrase then adapted the meaning that we are more familiar with today when it became expensive to dress a lady in such a manner.

To Have a Frog in Your Throat

Frogs placed in the mouth were once believed to be a cure for coughs in Medieval times. The physician would place the frog in the patient’s mouth and leave it there until he saw fit to remove it. They had some crazy ideas back then, and also used leeches for many ailments by ‘bloodletting’ but hey, they had to start somewhere!

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Most people are familiar with this saying as meaning to be ‘overdoing it’, (working, or partying or both!). Obviously, you cannot literally burn a candle at both ends, so the phrase simply means that you got up early and burnt a candle and went to bed late, after burning another candle. The ‘both ends’ refer to the beginning and end of the day.

To Be ‘In a Pickle’

Another Shakesperian quote, but this one is from The Tempest. Trinculo says, ‘I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last’. To be ‘in a pickle’ simply means that you are as mixed up and confused as the vegetables that make a pickle.

Tying the Knot

Some cynical souls might suggest that the knot in question might be a noose with which to hang yourself after marrying. However, it is a phrase that describes how traditionally the bride and groom’s hands were bound together during the ceremony. They were not supposed to remove the binding until they had consumated their marriage. (Interesting!?)

Money for Old Rope

Back when hanging was the norm, the hangman was not allowed to get rid of his ‘used’ rope. However, people being people, and before the invention of TV, many seemed suprisingly eager to purchase this rope. Money was tight a few hundred years ago and he may have sold you his granny too for the right price.

A Pig in a Poke

A saying that details the dangers of buying goods that you have not yet seen. If someone wanted to sell you a pig, then they may present to you a ‘poke’ which was a bag or sack of rough cloth (with a pig apparently inside). People did fall for this trick as the seller would explain that the pig was tied up ready for them to carry home with ease. The phrase, ‘to let the cat out of the bag’ would indicate a suspicious customer who looked in the bag before purchasing only to discover a cat or even a dog!

You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours

This dates back to when the sinister and painful looking whip called the Cat O Nine Tails was used in the British Navy. It meant that if the whipper went as easy as he could on the whipee, then the favour would be returned when it was his turn to be flogged.

Just a Few!

There are literally thousands of sayings and quotes that we use everyday, but often have no idea what they really mean or where they originated from. I have just picked a few, but have a look for yourself and see what other sayings and quotes mean. You might be suprised!

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