Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

June 19, 2010

Where Did It Come From?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

We  use a lot of interesting expressions.  Do we know where they came from?  Consider some of the things we say.

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”  We would never do that, but we use it to express the actions of some people.  In the 16th century, baths consisted of a tub filled with water.  The father had the privilege of taking a bath in the fresh, clean water.  Then in the same water, the oldest son, followed by his brothers, bathed.  After that, in the same water, the wife and children bathed.  Finally, the baby was bathed in the same, which by then, very dirty water.  It could be easy to lose someone in such dirty water, and so the expression, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

“It’s raining cats and dogs!”  Houses had thatched roofs with the straw piled high because there was no wood underneath.  Various animals could find their way to the roof because of the low roofs and items stacked closed to the walls.  They would sleep in the straw for warmth.  So dogs, cats, mice, and bugs lived in the roof.  When it rained hard they could not move around on the slick straw without falling off, and so the expression, “It’s raining cats and dogs!”   Related to this is the origin of  Canopy beds.  To protect themselves from those mice and bugs, and other debris that would fall through those thatched roofs, big posts were at each corner of the bed and a sheet hung over the top of the posts to afford some protection. Thus, canopy beds came into existence.

“Chewing the fat!”  and “Bringing home the bacon!”  Pork was not an easy meat to have in your home.  It was usually a sign of a profitable era in the life of a family.  It was a sign of wealth if a man could “bring home the bacon.”  And if there was pork in the home, it would hang openly so that those who came to visit could see it.  As they would sit around and visit, small pieces were cut off and given to everyone.  Thus they were “chewing the fat.”

“They are dirt poor!”  The homes of the wealthy had slate floors.  All the other homes had only dirt for floors.   Thus the wealthy described those who lacked the same resources and living in homes with dirt floor as “dirt poor.”

“Graveyard Shift!” and “Saved by the bell!” and “Dead ringer!”  England discovered that some people were being buried alive.  It was the result of digging up old coffins to make room for new burials.  They saw scratch marks in the coffins and feared that too many were being buried alive.  So a system was devised.  A string was attached to those buried and the string led through the coffin and up to the ground where it was tied to a bell.  For a period of time, someone would sit and listen for the bell, even all night.  Thus the “graveyard shift.”  Also, someone could be “saved by the bell.”  If discovered alive, they were known as a “dead ringer.”

Surely, you have been waiting all your life for this knowledge!  But I cannot prove it.  I am only passing along what was told to me.  I found it interesting.  I now consider cautiously some expressions I use.  I grew up hearing and saying I would be somewhere or do something if “the creek don’t rise!”  I always thought it meant if the creek or river didn’t become uncrossable.   A few years ago, I discovered the word creek should be capitalized.  It referred to the Creek Indians.  The old pioneers meant they would be there if  “the Creek Indians didn’t go on the war path.”

These expressions reveal how easy it is for us to repeat phrases without really comprehending the meaning or origin.  Perhaps upon that realization, I need to be extremely cautious of how I use expressions that I assume are  from the Bible.  For example: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  (There are some Proverbs that infer the concept.),   “To thine own self be true.”  (Line from Hamlet),  “God helps those who help themselves.”  (Benjamin Franklin),  “This too shall pass.”  (From an old English poem), and  “God works in mysterious ways.”  (Title of old hymn).

Better study my Bible more!  How about you?

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:15)

Lawson

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