Where Whack Expressions Come From

Ever wondered why we say the shit we say? What has a kettle of fish got to do with anything? Do grandma’s suck eggs? Surely it’s not possible to rain cats and dogs…

Do you remember being well confused as a kid when some idiot grown up would insensitively come out with one of those inexplicably bizarre expressions that left you reeling? I was genuinely upset when it only rained rain and cute cats and dogs never fell from the sky. I presume that like myself, you were shushed when asking the stoopid questions that inevitably followed and thus, grew up repeating the same asshole things without reason or rhyme. If, like myself, you have been plagued by a severe lack of answers throughout your lives, prepare to sleep easy and freakin’ breezy, for here lie the explanations for just some of the said shitters. Join the conversation/put your two cents in/tell me I’m wrong @BrodiSnook.

1. Make No Bones About It

Meaning: Used to state a fact that allows no doubt

Origin: As the story goes, the term is from somewhere along the way in 15th Century England, but the original saying was ‘found bones in it’, i.e. finding fault in whatever the thing was. Why bones? It is the reference to the unpleasant discovery of bones in your food, which as you can guess, was pretty common back in the day. Bones = bad, no bones = good. I wonder if the horse meat scandal will coin it’s own phrase to stand the test of time? It may seem like neigh bother, but I wouldn’t want to be saddled with that task. Bye Twitter followers…

2. Raining Cats & Dogs

Meaning: Pissing it down, essentially

Origin: This obviously isn’t one that was derived from a literal incident where cute and cuddlies fell from the sky. However, it does have a number of assumed origins. In turbulent weather, it is common for small critters like lizards and frogs to get carried skywards and land elsewhere. Frogs rhymes with dogs. Theory number two: mythology. Dogs were servants of Odin, the god of storms. Witches, who took the form of their familiars, cats, rode on the wind. The ever-so-slightly more likely theory three involves feral cats and dogs seeking refuge in thatched roofs and ending up being washed out of gutters when they overflowed with rain.

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3. Not For All The Tea In China

Meaning: Not at any price

Origin: This is fairly self explanatory. In the 19th/20th Century, China was one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of tea. The Oxford-English dictionary claims that this is phrase is of Australian origin and relates to the country’s lack of hospitality and tolerance for those who weren’t ‘white skinned’. How times haven’t changed. Author J.J. Mann’s 1914 travelogue claims that when he tried to blag a black servant into the country the response was ‘not for all the tea in China’. Trust the Aussies to make their mark on the world of phrases in a racist manner.

4. Cat Got Your Tongue?

Meaning: A stoopid question to ask someone who is inexplicably quiet

Origin: I trawled YouTube for videos of cats biting peoples tongues, but alas to no avail. The answer to this one is as mysterious as the Sphinx itself; as with all senseless idioms, there are a few explanations. It’s back to the Middle Ages where witchcraft was greatly feared and suspected witches were sentenced to death upon being sighted. It was believed that witches had the ability to cast a spell whereby their cat-sidekicks could ‘steal’ or control the speech of a mere mortal so that if the witch was spotted, it couldn’t be reported. So nothing to do with the talking cat with the human soul from Hocus Pocus like I’d hoped. From the Middle Ages to the Middle East, another theory goes that crooks had their tongues chopped out as punishment and they were fed to the King’s cats. More likely is the story of naughty sailors being whipped with the cat-o-nine-tails and being paralyzed into silence.

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5. No Comments From The Peanut Gallery

Meaning: Pipe down you idiot

Origin: Back in the vaudeville days, the peanut gallery was the term they used for the cheapest and thus, rowdiest seats in the theatre. The scum-of-the-theatre-Earth would inhabit this section and be boisterous bastards, shitting off the rest of the crowd. With cheap seats came cheap snacks; the naughty ones would inevitably throw their peanuts onstage and heckle the performers. ‘Peanut gallery’ came to mean not just the cheap seats, but the rebellious ragamuffins who frequented them and provided unsolicited commentary. Now it is applicable to any idiot who says any idiot thing, ever.

6. Different Kettle Of Fish

Meaning: Something entirely different from the thing that is being talked about

Origin:  The phrases a ‘pretty kettle of fish’ or a ‘fine kettle of fish’ were used by men in suits with greased hair and deep voices to describe an awkward situation at dinner parties. Like cats eating tongues and household pets falling from the sky, the notion of a kettle full of fish is ridiculous. Apparently the term alludes to Scottish riverside picnics of the 1700’s, whereby fresh salmon was caught, boiled and then eaten by hand.

7. Don’t Cut Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face

Meaning: Describes a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem

Origin: My Mum always used to preach this to me, and like any seven-year-old, I had no idea what it meant. I thought she was just banging on about ‘spiders faces’, cause that made about as much sense as the original. It is essentially a warning against pursuing revenge in a way that would be detrimental to oneself. The phrase is supposed to have been coined in the 12th Century and may be associated with women disfiguring themselves in order to protect their virginity. It is told that it was common for women to cut off their top lip and nose to appear unappealing to the Vikings and guard their chastity. Additionally in the Middle Ages, cutting off ones nose was a habitual punishment as an act of revenge or spite.

8. Nitty Gritty

Meaning: The heart of the matter, the essential information

Origin: There are a lot of annoying rhyming idioms, i.e ‘namby-pamby’ and ‘willy-nilly’. It has been alleged that ‘nitty-gritty’ was a derogatory term for the slaves of 18th Century England. As the phrase usually comes after the words ‘let’s get down to…’, it implies that whatever the N-G is, it’s at the bottom of the pile. The suggestion is that it was the term for the unimportant debris left at the bottom of ships after the slaves had been removed, and somewhere along the line was expanded to include the slaves themselves. Alternatively there seems to be evidence that nitty-gritty originates from the dreaded we-shall-not-speak-its-name-but-they-can-use-it-as-a-term-of-endearment-and-we-can’t-feel-uncomfortable-about-it-N-word.

9. In A Pickle

Meaning: In a sticky situation… A negative one

Origin: The pickles of yore were used as the integral ingredient for spicy sauces and stews and broths to accompany meat-based dishes, which thus were termed ‘pickles’ themselves. Modern pickles surely feel a bit feeble in comparison to their pickle ancestors, good for nothing but being taken out of burgers and placed shamefully on the wrapping. Tsk. The word comes from the Dutch word pekel, meaning ‘something piquant’. The reference of one being ‘in a pickle’ refers to being as mixed up as the ingredients in the said sauces. Fanciful, fictional stories of the day related to hapless people who found themselves on the menu which may have also attributed to the expression.

10. Don’t Try To Teach Grandma To Suck Eggs

Meaning: Don’t attempt to impart wisdom to those wiser than you

Origin:  The phrase seems to be about not being a know-it-all and not giving advice to someone about something they already know about. No one in internet land seems overly clear on where the actual idea of sucking eggs comes from. These days the saying has little impact as few people have direct experience in sucking eggs, or even if they did, they probably wouldn’t share the news. It just sounds gross, and always prompts a mental image in my head of a nice old Nanna (sometimes my Nanna, it really depends on the day) slurping down some yolks and then going ‘ahh’. Ergh.

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