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10 Common Sayings and what these really mean

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10 Common Sayings and what these really mean

Phrases, expressions, and proverbs that we all use on a daily basis when conversing with one another. 

Whether you’re at work, at home, or hanging out with your friends at a bar, chances are you’ve uttered one of these phrases more than once in your life. 

  • What these expressions really mean? 
  • Where do they come from?
  • What are their origin stories?

1. Crocodile tears


We all know what it means to cry “crocodile tears.” For those who may not, allow us to explain. The expression references someone who is faking crying or pretending to be upset. When they do this, they are known to be shedding crocodile tears.

But the saying actually derives from a medieval belief that crocodiles shed tears of sadness while they killed and consumed their prey. The myth dates back as far as the 14th century and comes from a book called “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.”

2. On Cloud Nine


  • This obviously had to be number nine.
  • Isn’t it great to feel like you’re on cloud nine?
  • How many times have you felt that way, and how many times have you used that expression to describe it?

If you’ve lived a good life, chances are quite a lot. But did you ever stop to think about where the expression comes from? We always thought it was a reference to Heaven, but these theories explain the true nature of the phrase.

According to one known origin of the expression, one of the classifications of clouds, defined by the US Weather Bureau in the 1950s, is known as “Cloud Nine.” It is a fluffy, cumulonimbus type of cloud.

What makes this cloud so special? Well, in the cloud community, it is considered to be the most attractive, which gives the phrase “on cloud nine” its positive connotation. Another theory states that “Cloud Nine” is one of the stages of enlightenment in Buddhism.

3. Resting on laurels


The idea of resting on your laurels dates back to leaders and athletic stars of ancient Greece.

In Hellenic times, laurel leaves were closely tied to Apollo, the god of music, prophecy and poetry. 

Apollo was usually depicted with a crown of laurel leaves, and the plant eventually became a symbol of status and achievement. Victorious athletes at the ancient Pythian Games received wreaths made of laurel branches, and the Romans later adopted the practice and presented wreaths to generals who won important battles. 

Venerable Greeks and Romans, or “laureates,” were thus able to “rest on their laurels” by basking in the glory of past achievements.

Only later did the phrase take on a negative connotation, and since the 1800s, it has been used for those who are overly satisfied with past triumphs.

4. Paint the town red


The phrase “paint the town red” most likely owes its origin to one legendary night of drunkenness. In 1837, the Marquis of Waterford—a known lush and mischief maker—led a group of friends on a night of drinking through the English town of Melton Mowbray. 

The bender culminated in vandalism after Waterford and his fellow revellers knocked over flowerpots, pulled knockers off of doors and broke the windows of some of the town’s buildings. To top it all off, the mob literally painted a tollgate, the doors of several homes and a swan statue with red paint. 

The marquis and his pranksters later compensated Melton for the damages, but their drunken escapade is likely the reason that “paint the town red” became shorthand for a wild night out.

Still yet another theory suggests the phrase was actually born out of the brothels of the American West, and referred to men behaving as though their whole town were a red-light district.

5. What’s Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander


This proverb is saying, anything good enough for a man (the gander) should be good enough for a woman (the goose). In our progressive times today, we no longer think in these terms.

But a long time ago, they did. Interestingly enough, the original expression was “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

6. A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush


According to this popular proverb, it is sometimes better to have a lesser advantage if that advantage has a more certain outcome than to seek a greater advantage that could come to nothing. 

So where does this interesting expression come from? It goes all the way back to the art of medieval falconry.

A “bird in the hand” refers to the dominant species, the falcon, and “two in the bush” is the falcon’s prey. In that instance, it is worth more to be the falcon than to be the thing that falcons are hunting. 

Therefore, you would rather be a bird in the hand than two in the bush. The first known use of the proverb goes back to 1670 when John Ray used it in an A Handbook of Proverbs.

7. It’s Raining Cats And Dogs


A long time ago, houses had thatched roofs. These roofs had thick straw piled together to form a ceiling but contained no wood underneath.

On cold nights, the animals would search for warmth in their surroundings. According to one theory, the most reliable place was on top of that thatched roof with the pile of straw. 

Animals like dogs, cats, mice, and rats climbed on these roofs to sleep in a warm place. Bugs went there, too. Unfortunately, when it rained, the thatched roofs got so slippery that the cats and dogs would slip and fall off the roofs. So, when it rained heavily, it would literally rain cats and dogs (and mice and bugs, but that doesn’t sound as nice).

That’s one possible origin of this phrase. But many people feel that this story has been debunked over the years. Apparently, the animals would have had to lie on the outside of a thatched roof, which is a silly place to seek shelter during heavy rain. 

So the origin of this phrase remains unclear. There are many alternative theories, including a popular one from Norse mythology. The Norse story features the storm god Odin, who was attended by dogs and wolves. It also has witches in it, who rode on their brooms with black cats during storms. When Odin became angry and caused a storm, cats were said to bring the rain and dogs brought the wind.

8. Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater


This strange expression dates all the way back to the 1500s.

Believe it or not, people in the 16th century only bathed once a year! To make matters worse, entire groups of people used the same bath and the same water. The water was not changed as each person took turns bathing.

The men would go first, the women were second, and the children and babies went last. You can imagine how dirty that water was by the time the babies turn comes. 

In fact, it was so filthy that the water became clouded. Sometimes, mothers had to make sure that the babies weren’t literally thrown out with the dirty bathwater. 

The phrase, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” now means that you should make sure you don’t throw out anything valuable while disposing of unnecessary things. Nothing is more valuable than a new-born baby is, so the phrase still rings true today.

9. Cat Got Your Tongue.


Often recited with a smirk, this expression has an interesting background and origin story. “Cat got your tongue?” is a line we use when reacting to someone who has been silenced or is at a loss for words. So, what does it mean?

Well, surprisingly, it has nothing do with cats. In the English navy, punishments were handed out in the form of flogging, which was done with a whip known, as a cat-o’-nine-tails. It was quite the weapon. 

The pain was so bad that it caused its victims to go mute. They would be afraid to speak and would often remain silent for a long period of time after the flogging.

Drunken navy sailors would then walk around yelling, “Cat got your tongue?” as a way of taunting the victims.

So, next time you are left speechless because someone made a really good point, remember that it could be much worse.

10. Turn a blind eye


The phrase “turn a blind eye”—often used to refer to a wilful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality—dates back to a legendary chapter in the career of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. 

During 1801’s Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet. When his more conservative superior officer flagged for him to withdraw, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on to score a decisive victory.

Some historians have since dismissed Nelson’s famous quip as merely a battlefield myth, but the phrase “turn a blind eye” persists to this day.

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