Common Saying With Weird Origins

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Karee Blunt

One of the most challenging parts of learning a new language is learning the idioms and expressions people use in everyday speech. As native speakers, we use these expressions every day without giving them a second thought! 

That is a shame, though, because some of the most common sayings in the English language have fascinating origin stories. Here are ten that stood out to us:

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

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You got information directly from the source if you heard something straight from the horse’s mouth. 

In the early 1900s, cars were still relatively new. People mostly relied on horses to get around, make deliveries, and do farm work. Younger horses were generally more valuable than older horses because those buying them would get more years of use. 

You could tell how old a horse was by looking at its teeth. Instead of asking the seller how old a horse was, people would look straight in the horse’s mouth to make sure they were getting a good deal. 

Hands Down 

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It turns out a lot of our common sayings have to do with horses!

When someone says something is hands down the best or worst thing they’ve ever experienced, they’re saying it is absolutely or definitely the best/worst. 

This phrase dates back to the 1800s when horse racing was the most popular spectator sport. If a jockey was so far ahead of the competition that he was certain to win, he could put his hands down and loosen the reins.

Pull Out All the Stops

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When you pull out all the stops, you give something your best effort without holding anything back. 

You might think this refers to drain stoppers letting all the water out of a tub or sink, but it’s actually a reference to pipe organs. Stops are used to prevent some pipes from sounding, lowering the overall volume of the organ. Once you pull all the stops out, however, the organ is as loud as it can possibly be. 

Read the Riot Act

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When someone gets read the riot act, they are being reprimanded for their behavior. But did you know the Riot Act was a real piece of legislation in 18th-century England? 

The real Riot Act was established in 1715 and allowed authorities to label groups of more than 12 people as threatening peace. Public officials would literally read these groups an excerpt of the Riot Act before asking them to leave. Anyone still there an hour later could be arrested. 

Turn a Blind Eye 

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When you turn a blind eye to something, you purposefully ignore it. 

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Horatio Nelson was a celebrated officer in the British Navy. He also happened to be blind in one eye. 

During a battle against a large fleet of Danish and Norwegian ships, his superior officer signaled him to withdraw. Nelson supposedly held the telescope to his blind eye, remarked that he saw no signal, and continued fighting, ultimately winning the battle. 

Give Someone the Cold Shoulder 

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When you give someone the cold shoulder, you ignore them or act purposefully chilly to get them to go away. 

Though this phrase was first used in the early 19th century, it dates back much further than that. When a guest came to your home, you would be expected to feed them. If they were a welcome guest, you would make sure to give them a nice, warm cut of meat. 

However, if you didn’t want that guest sticking around, you could give them a cold slice of meat, usually from the mutton or pork shoulder. This was a subtle way of telling them they had overstayed their welcome. 

Go the Whole 9 Yards

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Much like pulling out all the stops, going the whole nine yards means you’ve given something your all. 

This is one of the more modern sayings on our list, only dating back to World War II. Fighter pilots would be given 9 yards of ammunition each time they were sent out on a mission. If they came back having used the whole nine yards, it showed they had done everything in their power to take down the enemy. 

More Than You Can Shake a Stick At

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If you have more of something than you can shake a stick at, then you have almost too much!

You’ve probably seen illustrations of shepherds and crooks. They would use those crooks or staffs to control their sheep by shaking it in the direction they wanted the flock to move. However, if there were too many sheep for them to control on their own effectively, they had more than they could shake a stick at. 


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When you jaywalk, you cross the street in a way you shouldn’t, like crossing when the “Don’t Walk” signal is on or in the middle of the street instead of a crosswalk. But before there were jaywalkers, there were jaydrivers. 

“Jay” meant someone inexperienced at something, similar to a greenhorn. A jaydriver couldn’t figure out how to drive a car or carriage on the right side of the road. Jaywalker later meant someone who didn’t follow correct sidewalk etiquette before evolving into its modern meaning. 

Could You Have Done What Lewis and Clark Did? Probably Not and Here’s Why

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Lots of people are into hiking, although very few have the stamina to do what Lewis and Clark did. Can you even imagine making an 8,000-mile cross-country trek into unchartered territory? Take a minute to explore these 12 riveting realities of the Lewis and Clark expedition that will leave you questioning your own survival skills.

Could You Have Done What Lewis and Clark Did? Probably Not and Here’s Why

Step Into the Past: 10 American Ghost Towns to Explore

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While the United States may lack the ancient history of other nations, it certainly holds its own when it comes to ghost towns. As highlighted in a recent New York Times report, we’re talking about an impressive count of approximately 3,800 abandoned settlements.

Step Into the Past: 10 American Ghost Towns to Explore

Most Dangerous Cities in the World, Ranked: Know Before You Go

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These are 10 most dangerous cities in the world, where stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage collide with alarming crime rates. We’re not saying don’t travel to these locations, but it’s important to be aware in order to stay safe.

Most Dangerous Cities in the World, Ranked: Know Before You Go

10 of the Most Dangerous Countries for Women Traveling Solo

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Sadly, there are still places where female travelers face a heightened risk of violence and harassment. As a result, it’s more important than ever to prioritize the safety of women on the road. To help you plan your next adventure with confidence, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most dangerous countries for solo female travelers to avoid.

10 of the Most Dangerous Countries for Women Traveling Solo

7 Most Dangerous Countries to Travel With Your Kids Today

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Traveling worldwide is one of the most incredible experiences adults can give to children in their families. Interacting with other cultures is a priceless gift that creates memories for years to come.

Unfortunately, there are places where tourist travel is unsafe, especially with children, because of geopolitical concerns, crime, climate, and gang activity. So, if planning a family trip abroad, be wary of traveling to countries with high tourist safety risks.

7 Most Dangerous Countries to Travel With Your Kids Today

This article was syndicated by Our Woven Journey. Featured Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

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