Every day we are bombarded with slogans, one-liners, clichés and a variety of other terms and phrases. We memorize our favorite movie quotes, sing along to our favorite songs and can probably recite a ridiculous number of commercials (past and present) word for word. While you try to get that HeadOn (“apply directly to the forehead”) commercial out of your head, think about all of the sayings you use or encounter in a day. Often, without even really understanding what we are saying or why, we use common sayings to sum up various moods or describe situations. But, what do they really mean and where do they come from?
Most of the popular sayings we use today are shrouded in mystery. We might know they come from the 17th or 18th century but we don’t know exactly who started using them. In most cases, the assumptions surrounding the origins of popular sayings are totally wrong, have been hijacked by another meaning or have taken on a different meaning over time. For instance, ‘break a leg’ is often said to stage actors before they perform. The popular belief is that it is bad luck to wish an actor well. Therefore, by wishing them ill, the superstitious believe the opposite will happen. However, the phrase can also mean to put in a strong or strenuous effort – also applicable to stage actors. Some even believe the saying refers to putting on such a good show that you will be required to bend your leg and bow to the applause. There are many more, but you get the idea.
Now, before we let the cat out of the bag, it is important to understand that there are many more popular sayings than could possibly fit on this list. We’re not pulling your leg, there really are a lot. Below are listed some of the most popular sayings along with where we think they came from. For each, at least a couple explanations or possible origins are given and you can be the judge of what seems to be the best fit. So, let’s stop beating around the bush and get on to the list.
10 Saved by the Bell
9 Rule of Thumb
8 Pleased as Punch
7 Run Amok
6 Caught Red Handed
5 Dressed to the Nines
3 Cat Got Your Tongue
2 Bite the Bullet
1 The Whole Nine Yards
In 2000 Matthew Perry teamed up with Bruce Willis in the comedy The Whole Nine Yards. The movie wasn’t the greatest but its title made use of a famous and often used saying which basically means ‘everything.’ Today, if you go the whole nine yards it means to go all the way or give everything you’ve got to achieve an objective. No one knows the true origins of this saying. Many people think it refers to World War Two US fighter and bomber crews who operated .50 caliber machine guns which used nine-yard ammunition belts. If you fired off all your ammunition at the enemy, you gave him the whole nine yards. While this fits, the saying actually appeared in commercial prints in 1907, over 30 years before the Second World War.
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