Do you ever wonder where some of those sayings and expressions we often use come from? I have a friend who took a course in college about the origins of sayings and expressions. How interesting and enlightening that course must have been.
Following are some of the more popular ones...
Don't bite off more than you can chew: The saying originated in the United States and has been traced back some 110 years or earlier. When an American would say: "Don't bite off more than you can chew," an Italian would say, "Don't take a step longer than your leg."
Never cry wolf: Traced back to a translation of Aesop's Fables (1629.) Original version dates to about the sixth century b.c. It tells of a rural shepherd boy who twice cried, "Wolf!" to summon the villages when in fact the flock was in no danger at all. The disgruntled villagers then ignores his cries fro help when a real wolf attacked, killing the boy as well as the sheep.
Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing: This adage originated in the United States in 1953 and is often attributed to Vanderbilt University coach, Red Sanders.
On a Wing and a Prayer: The metaphor comes from the image of a damaged airplane trying to land. The phrase first appeared as the title of a song, Comin' in on a wing and a pray'r," written by Harold Adamson (106-80) with music by Jimmy McHugh. The 1944 movie, Wing and a Prayer, directed by Henry Hathaway, about brave pilots aboard an aircraft during WWII, made it a household saying.
Mind your p's and q's: The original saying is unknown. It's been suggested that 'p' stands for 'please' and 'q' for 'thank you' and that children were once admonished for not using these words. Another theory is that 'p' stands for a 'pint' of alcohol and 'q' a 'quart. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. argues that it derives from a teacher's request that students keep their handwriting legible and not confuse the letters 'p' with 'q'.
Everything;s hunky-dory: Hunkidori was the name of a breath freshener introduced in 1868. First used in the UK in the 1920s.
A clean bill of health: The phrase goes back to the nineteenth century when bills of health were issued to ships' masters to the effect that no infectious diseases have been reported in the port of embarkation.
I need that like a hole in the head: Of Yiddish origin. Originated in the United State in the late 1940s.
Let's get the show on the road: Originally used by American theater owners to urge actors to prepare for a tour. This show business phrase dates back to 1910 and has been in common use since 1930.
The shoe is on the other foot: Traced back to the nineteenth century. Until then, shoes had been
made different in size, but not in form and people could put the same show on either foot.
Business as usual: Despite the difficulty and danger, life goes on. It was a catch phrase of WW I. In a speech in 1914 Winston Churchill said: "The maxim of the British people is "Business as usual." The phrase has been used ever since.
The buck stops here: President Harry Truman had a sign saying this on his desk at the White House. The lotto was and is used by many politicians. Originally a poker saying (the buck was a marker used to indicate the player who was dealing.)
To bite the bullet: Dates back to the time when soldiers were treated without anesthesia , and they literally bit on a bullet to ease the pain.
The early bird catches the worm: The proverb traces back to Remains Concerning Britain (1636) by W. Camden. First attested in the United States in Sam Slick's Wise Saws (1853) by Thomas C. Haliburton. The idiomatic early bird means an early riser, the first customer, train., bus, etc.
Info taken from: Random House Dictionary of America's Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Titelman.