In the previous article, the common phrases of: bottoms up, bare-faced lie, more than you can shake a stick at, run amock, and blood is thicker than water were discussed. That was just 5 common phrases traced back to it’s original origins. However, in this article there are five more common phrases that will be traced back to it’s original origins. This is part 2 of 3.
“Butter Someone Up”
We all know that this phrase means to lay flattery on thick. We can only assume that the idea behind this phrase has to do with how smoothly butter spreads onto bread, right? Not exactly, but nice try.
This phrase comes from an ancient Indian custom of throwing butterballs of ghee (clarified butter commonly used in Indian cooking) at the statues of the Gods to seek favor. Additionally, the Tibetan tradition of creating butter sculptures for the New Year can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty and the belief that such offerings would bring peace and happiness for a whole year.
“Cat Got Your Tongue”
This particular phrase means to leave someone speechless, if that person is chatty. There are two possible origins of this phrase and both are morbid.
The first possible origin refers to a time when the cat-o’-nine-tails was used. It is believed that this phrase was derived because the victims of the tails were rendered speechless because of the pain inflicted upon them.
The second possible origin traces back to medieval times. The punishment for liars and blasphemers was to have their tongues removed. Once the tongue was removed, the tongue would be given to the cats. Ancient Egyptian cats were considered to be Gods. So, feeding the cats the tongues of the liars and blasphemers were considered to be a human offering to the Gods.
“Have A Yen For”
Have you ever wanted something really bad? Then you had a “yen for that something. Most people think that this phrase has to do something with the Japanese currency. Well, it turns out that those people would be wrong because it has nothing to do with the Japanese currency.
This phrase actually has to do with Chinese opium. Chinese opium was available in Britian and America in the late 1800’s. People would crave the opium. Therefore, this phrase is derived from the Chinese word yan, which when translated means craving.
“The Writing Is On The Wall”
This simply means that something bad is inevitable. The roots of this phrase can be traced back to the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, God punishes King Belshazzar for boasting (having too much pride). In this story, God foreshadows the king’s demise by having the words for “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided” literally written on the wall. These words were later discovered and this is how the king was taken care of.
“Turn A Blind Eye”
This expression means to pretend that you do not know what is going on around you. It’s roots are from the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen.
During the battle, Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, commander of the British fleet, attempted to stop Horatio Nelson from launching an attack of the enemy. When Nelson’s men pointed out this order from the Admiral, he raised a telescope to his blind eye and replied, “Order. What order? I see no ships”.
With this part complete, we now have found the origins of ten phrases that we use on an everyday basis. There is still five more to discuss, which will be in the final part of this series.
Reference: Historian Albert Jack. Author of ‘Black Sheep and Lame Ducks: The Origins of Even More Phrases We Use Everyday.’