Phrases – More Origins

I’ve been working on this post for some time – I thought it was high time I finished it off:

Fit as a fiddle – A musical instrument has to be well maintained to be in good working order, the fiddle was possibly used because of it’s popularity at the time.

Scot Free – Scot was a tax introduced in the 12th Century, so if you got away with paying this, you were getting away Scot free.

As happy as a clam – This is the shortened version of a phrase used “As happy as a clam at high water”

Shake a leg – This was the phrase shouted to sailors in their hammocks in the morning. The sailors would then stick their leg out from under the covers so the officer could tell which were the men to get up and which were the ladies to leave alone.

Pulling your leg – This phrease has a criminal background, and those that used to steal from people in crime ridden London in the olden days… they used to literally have wires to trip people up which pulled on their leg, then someone else took their valuables whilst they were feeling rather compromised on the floor

Cock up – “Cock-up” is in common usage as another term for “foul-up” in British English. The contemporary British English usage of “cock-up” likely derives from the nautical usage of the term to describe an arrangement of the yards of a square-rigged vessel in port.

More than one can shake a stick at – Farmers with more sheep than they could control with their wooden staffs are believed to have inspired this phrase, which means you have more of something than you need. But  there’s a second possible origin. After George Washington was once seen waving a ceremonial wooden sword over the British troops he had recently defeated, other American generals began to use the expression to justify themselves when they had not been quite as successful as the great man himself was in battle. ‘We had more men to fight than you could wave a stick at’ was apparently a common excuse for failure on the battlefield.

Bare faced lie – The phrase refers to the idea that a clean-shaven face could not conceal any lies, unlike a bearded mug, which could hide all manner of deceit. But over time, the phrase came to describe a person who didn’t care whether or not he was lying and had no real intention of concealing his deception.

The writing’s on the wall – The roots of this phrase, which means that something negative is inevitable, trace back to the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, God punishes King Belshazzar for boasting and foreshadows his demise by having the words for “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided” (which all refer to how he was to be taken down) literally written on the wall.

Bottom’s up – English Navy recruiters during the 18th and 19th centuries, tried to persuade London pub-goers to join the armed forces by getting them to accept payment in the form of a King’s shilling. Dishonest recruiters would drop a shilling into the pint of a drunken man who wouldn’t notice until he finished his beverage. They would then drag him out to sea the very next day. Once drinkers and pubs figured out the scam, they introduced glasses with transparent bases and customers would be reminded to lift the pint up and check the bottom for illicit shillings before they began drinking.

Butter someone up – This comes from an ancient Indian custom of throwing butterballs of ghee (clarified butter used in Indian cooking) at the statues of the gods to seek favor.

I’ve loved finding out about all of these and I hope you guys enjoyed reading about it. I like findin out about this and if you have nay that you would like to find out about – I’ll put them into a furture post.

Simon 🙂




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