Where do all those old saying and phrases come from and what do they mean?

The Origin of Old Sayings, Euphemisms and Figures of Speech

We say them everyday. They are passed down from one generation to another. Some are clinches some are euphemisms, and some are figures of speech. Where exactly do these old sayings come from, what is their origin? Sayings like, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” or ”Six of one half a dozen of the other”, and ‘Eat drink and be merry”.

The old saying, “There is more than one way to skin a cat”, goes back a long way. Through the years it has changed and certain areas of the country have their own way of saying and their own way of understanding the phrase. One of the oldest records of the phrase appears in a book of English proverbs written by John Ray in 1678. Some think that the southern states use to associate this phrase with catfish because a fish is something that would surely be skinned.

“Six of one and half dozen of the other” means the same thing. Nobody seems to know where this phrase came from but all agree it is not new. One of the first documented uses of the phrase is in a book called, The Comic Latin Grammar written by Percival Leigh.

The bible is the origin of the term, “Eat, drink, and be merry. In Ecclesiastes 8:15 ’a man has no better thing than to eat drink and be merry’. Another phrase that comes from the bible is, “Escaped by the skin of your teeth” is found in Job 19:20.

Surprisingly the old saying, “What the Dickens” is not an old saying coined by Charles Dickens. The saying is much older than he is. Dickens was another name for the Devil.

One Medieval sayings is from Medieval law, “By hook or by crook”. The law was that you could cut tree branches for firewood if one could reach them with their Sheppard’s crook or their billhook.

In ancient times, athletes that won, and popular heroes as well as other important people were given wreaths made of Laurel leaves. The term, “Resting on your laurels” meant one was relying on their past achievement.

A “Moot point” comes from the Saxon word moot or mote meaning to discuss something. A “Moot point” was a point that needed a discussion or debate.

Another famous phrase from the Middle Ages, “Wearing your heart on your sleeves” was made famous by the knights that wore a token of their lady on their sleeves.

There are many old phrases, sayings, euphemisms, and figures of speech. It’s always good to know exactly what we are talking about.


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