Where Did That Phrase Come From?

Do you ever find yourself saying something and then wonder what it really means or even why everyone says it? For example, I sometimes tell people they are “in like Flynn,” meaning they will be able to do something quickly and without any trouble. Well, I know that that phrase originated when actor Errol Flynn managed to dodge a legal bullet when he was acquitted of the statutory rape of a teenage girl in 1943. And, if I remember correctly, the court room was so bamboozled with the good looks and charm of Flynn, it took them only 30 minutes to return a verdict.

So what are some phrase we say ever day that people have used for years and what do they really mean?

Three Sheets to the Wind

Used when referring to someone inebriated, this phrase was used to refer to sailors who were so drunk, they let a sheet (which was actually the rope attached to the sheet or sail) loose, causing the ship to sail erratically. To emphasize the point of extreme inebriation, I guess someone at some point decided that if one sheet were bad, three sheets to the wind must be really, really bad. And, from what I have read, the phrase originally started out as “three sheets in the wind.”

Can of worms

Meaning to opening up a situation that will be troublesome or scandalous, “can of worms” may have originated with the theory of Pandora’s Box. But, some indications point to the fact that this may really refer to an actual can of worms. Fishermen used a can of worms as bait for fishing, but found that if the worms escaped, it was very difficult to get them back in the can.

Come hell or high water

This phrase is attributed to cattlemen. Paul Wellman wrote in 1939’s “Trampling Herd: The Story of the Cattle Range in America” that “In spite of hell and high water’ is a legacy of the cattle trail when the cowboys drove their horn-spiked masses of longhorns through high water at every river and continuous hell between.”

Bury the hatchet

This means to stop feuding or fighting and it is believed to have come from the Native American custom of burying all weapons so they could not be seen while smoking the peace pipe.

God bless you

Ever wonder why someone says “God bless you” when you sneeze? It is believed that people started saying this in medieval times because they thought when you sneezed; you were expelling your soul and you were vulnerable to evil. But, some think it originated during the time of the Black Plague, which was associated with people sneezing. In this case, they thought that instead of expelling their soul, you were actually expelling evil spirits when you sneezed, so they blessed you.

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Libby Pelham

About Libby Pelham

I have always loved to write and Families.com gives me the opportunity to share my passion for writing with others. I work full-time as a web developer at UTHSC and most of my other time is spent with my son (born 2004). I love everything pop culture, but also enjoy writing about green living (it has opened my eyes to many things!) and health (got to worry about that as you get older!).

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