Say what?! The origins of your favourite sayings

Image: Doughhouse Baking

Becoming a parent means you have to pay a lot more attention to what comes out of your mouth. And I’m not just talking about the swearing! Kids tend to take everything literally. The other day I told my daughter, “Sorry babe, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles”. She looked at me like I was crazy, then began to wonder where the cookie was and eventually ended up in tears because she couldn’t find one. I tried to explain that it was just a silly saying, but… she’s two. I ended up giving her a cookie instead.

To save you from the same scenario, here’s a few weird but popular sayings and the meanings behind them!

Bite the bullet

What it means:
To accept or endure something you’ve been putting off or avoiding. For example, “It’s time to bite the bullet and start toilet training.”

Where it came from:
Couple of suggestions for this one. Back in the day, if you had an aching tooth with an exposed nerve it was advised that you use the shell casing of a bullet to cover the tooth, sort of like a crown. It has also been rumoured that when there was no time to administer anesthesia during a battle, surgeons would get patients to bite down on a bullet to distract them from the pain.

Sleep tight

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

What it means:
Have a good night’s sleep. For example, “Sleep tight darling. Mummy will see you at 2am when you inevitably come running into our bed to spend the rest of the night kicking me in the head.”

Where it came from:
This one goes back to a time when mattresses were supported by a series or tightly woven ropes. In order for the bed to be the slightest bit comfortable (no pillow tops were available back then!) the ropes had to be pulled really tight.

Eat humble pie

What it means:
When you’ve just gotta harden up, apologise and not act like a sore loser when you’ve been proven wrong. For example, “Mummy is very sorry for blaming you when clearly it was the dog who knocked over that cup of milk.”

Where it came from:
During the Middle Ages, “umble pie” was a fairly revolting pie made from chopped or minced parts of an animal, eg. the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys. After a day of hunting, the lords of the manor would enjoy a big feast while the lower classes would have to eat the umble pie. You basically knew where you stood if this humiliating meal showed up on your plate!

Cut to the chase

Image: Freestocks
Image: Freestocks

What it means:
Get to the point. For example, “Just cut to the chase and tell me what happens. Does the daddy fish find Nemo, or not?”

Where it came from:
The movies. Where else. In the early days of cinema, movies tended to ramble on a bit and involved lots of romantic scenes that would eventually end in a chase scene of some description. Directors would tell the crew to “cut to the chase” and get to the chase scene quicker.

Kick the bucket

What it means:
To cark it. To pass away. To croak. For example, “Sorry kids, but our pet fish has kicked the bucket.”

Where it came from:
Hope you’re not eating, because this one is pretty gross! When cows were taken to the slaughterhouse to be killed, they were placed on a pulley with a bucket underneath to help position them. Sometimes the cows would lash out (understandably!) and kick the bucket over while the ropes were being adjusted. So they literally kicked the bucket at the end.

To show your true colours

What it means:
To let others see you for how you really are. “His true colours were revealed the first time I saw him attempt to change a nappy.”

Where it came from:
Ships used to fly flags or “colours” to identify which country or group they belong to. However, pirates would often try to trick other ships by flying false colours before eventually revealing their pirate flags when it was too late for the victims to stop them. No captain worth his salt would go into battle flying false colours, which is how this phrase indicating honesty and straightforwardness emerged.

Beat around the bush

Image: Freestocks
Image: Freestocks

What it means:
To avoid a question or a topic that you’d really rather not deal with. For example, “Stop beating around the bush, did you make your brother drink the bubble mixture or not?”

Where it came from:
When hunting was still a popular sport, animals like boars and pigs would hide in the bushes and undergrowth. The young assistants of the noble hunters would be too scared to approach them so they would simply get a long stick and beat around the bush in the hopes it would scare the animal out and they wouldn’t have to go in and retrieve it.