Where British Phrases Came From

Thursday, Nov 14, 2019, 10:22 am
By:Tony Williams

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1.Not fit to hold a candle

This phrase comes from an insult that was used to describe a poor craftsman that really did not know what they were doing. It comes from the fact that they used uneducated people to hold the candle while they worked and if you were unable to do even this, then you were not much use as a person.



Not fit to hold a candle-Where British Phrases Came From
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2.Without batting an eyelid

This actually comes from an old English word, bate which meant to flutter. If a person reacted to some news without blinking it was said that they were not bateing an eyelid leading to the phrase that we have today.



Without batting an eyelid-Where British Phrases Came From

3.Upper hand

The phrase comes from a game in 15th century England where two people would hold a stick and would race by putting one hand over the other to get to the top of the stick. The person that got there first was deemed to have the upper hand.



Upper hand-Where British Phrases Came From
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4.Under the weather

This comes from being on the sea again because it was quite a harsh environment to be on deck all of the time, so when a sailor was sick he was sent downstairs and was, therefore, under the weather. We then started to use it to describe when we were not feeling well.



Under the weather-Where British Phrases Came From

5.The hair of the dog

This is very strange because it comes from the UK and it tells you a lot about how they viewed medicine centuries ago. The full phrase is actually the hair of the dog that bit you and there was an idea that to heal a wound you had to literally rub the hair of the dog into it. How this then moved over to a hangover cure is a mystery.



The hair of the dog-Where British Phrases Came From
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6.Start from scratch

This phrase comes from the world of horse racing back in medieval times. The race was started by somebody scratching a line in the ground with their sword and if the rider did something wrong, such as cutting a corner, then they were forced back to the beginning and to start from scratch.



Start from scratch-Where British Phrases Came From

7.Square meal

This phrase comes from the sea because food was quite scarce and portions were rather meager. However, whenever a substantial meal was served it was put onto a large square wooden board as they could be stacked easier in the ship. This then became known as a square meal.



Square meal-Where British Phrases Came From
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8.Sour grapes

This phrase comes from a fable by Aesop and in particular 'the fox and the grapes'. In the story the fox is trying to get to the grapes high up on the tree, but fails and falls down. It consoles itself by saying that they looked sour anyway, so it was glad it could not eat them leading to the phrase we know today.



Sour grapes-Where British Phrases Came From

9.Sling your hook

This is used when you want somebody to leave and the phrase comes from the sea where the hook is basically the anchor. You were told so sling your hook in order to leave the harbor, so the meaning has hardly changed.



Sling your hook-Where British Phrases Came From
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10.Saved by the bell

This is nothing to do with boxing, but instead comes from 19th century London. A guard was accused of falling asleep on duty, but he said that he was awake as he heard Big Ben chime 13 times instead of 12. Nobody believed him until the clock was checked and that was actually the case, so he was released from prison and saved by the bell.



Saved by the bell-Where British Phrases Came From

11.Red herring

This comes from fox hunting in the 1800s in the UK and it involved using the scent of herring, which turned red due to smoking it, to distract dogs on fox hunts. People that loved the fox would drag herring away from a fox as they knew the dogs would latch onto it and leave the fox alone.



Red herring-Where British Phrases Came From
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12.Pull your finger out

We all know what this means now, but its origins are slightly different. It comes from using a cannon and when they were taking their time the powder would be held in by a wooden plug, but in battle they had to be faster, so somebody would stick their finger in instead. They were shouted at to pull their finger out so it could then be fired.



Pull your finger out-Where British Phrases Came From

13.Plum job

This is quite a British phrase and its origins also come from the UK and in particular from British politics. In the 1600s a politician was generally given 1000 for a particular role in government and the slang term for that amount of money was a plum. It was a lot of cash back then and it became known as a plum job as everybody wanted it.



Plum job-Where British Phrases Came From

14.Mad as a hatter

If you thought that this was Alice in Wonderland to blame, then you are wrong. It actually comes from the 17th century as making hats from felt involved using certain chemicals that were not too good for your health. This would poison the people making the hat and lead to them doing strange things.



Mad as a hatter-Where British Phrases Came From

15.Lost their bottle

We all know what this means, but the phrase comes from the world of bare knuckled boxing where the bottle man was the guy that sat in the corner. However, a boxer had to have one of them in order to continue fighting and if they were being beaten up the bottle man would often leave to stop the fight hence lost their bottle.



Lost their bottle-Where British Phrases Came From

16.Let the cat out of the bag

You have probably used this at some point in your life and it comes from the medieval period in England where things were not as they seemed. There was a practice whereby a person thought they were buying a piglet, but were then distracted as somebody swapped it for a cat. They only knew about it when they got home and let the cat out of the bag.



Let the cat out of the bag-Where British Phrases Came From

17.Let the cat out of the bag

You have probably used this at some point in your life and it comes from the medieval period in England where things were not as they seemed. There was a practice whereby a person thought they were buying a piglet, but were then distracted as somebody swapped it for a cat. They only knew about it when they got home and let the cat out of the bag.



Let the cat out of the bag-Where British Phrases Came From

18.In a nutshell

This one is cool because it comes from the fact that in the past, short documents were written in small handwriting and they were then carried around in walnut shells to keep them dry. It now makes sense why we use this phrase.



In a nutshell-Where British Phrases Came From

19.Got your work cut out for you

This is a phrase that does sum up certain situations perfectly, but did you know that we have Charles Dickens to thank for it? The phrase appears in his book A Christmas Carol and it actually comes from tailoring. The idea is that if you have a lot of material to deal with, then it all takes longer leading to this phrase.



Got your work cut out for you-Where British Phrases Came From

20.Hat trick

You will be familiar with this term in sport when somebody scores three goals or does something three times in the one match. The phrase itself comes from cricket where a person would be given a new hat if they managed to get out three guys in a row. This did not happen that often, but the idea was then taken up by soccer and that helped to spread the phrase.



Hat trick-Where British Phrases Came From

21.Go with the flow

This phrase actually goes all of the way back to the Roman times and to an emperor called Marcus Aurelius. He was quite philosophical and came up with the phrase by talking about the idea of just allowing nature to take its own course leading to the term..go with the flow.



Go with the flow-Where British Phrases Came From

22.You're fired

This is a phrase you never want to hear, but it actually comes from miners that lost their job. If they were being released due to stealing they would have their tools burnt in front of them to make sure they could not come back to work there or anywhere else. They were told that their tools were being fired.



You're fired-Where British Phrases Came From

23.Got up on the wrong side of the bed

This phrase purely comes from superstition because centuries ago people believed that evil spirits lives on one side of the bed. They believed that if you got out on that side that their spirits could take over and inhabit you hence you being in a bad mood and cranky all day.



Got up on the wrong side of the bed-Where British Phrases Came From

24.Cold feet

We have all suffered from cold feet at times, but people do not know that it comes from a poker game in a novel by a German author. In the book, a character has to drop out of a poker game as they said their feet were too cold that they were unable to concentrate hence the term cold feet.



Cold feet-Where British Phrases Came From

25.Blackmail

We are all familiar with the term blackmail, but it actually comes from Scotland in the 1600s. At that time rent was known as maill and it was paid using silver coins. This became known as white maill, but then when people demanded money to protect others, this became known as black maill.



Blackmail-Where British Phrases Came From

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