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Origins of Words and Expressions

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Have you ever used a word or an expression and wondered, “Why do we say that? Where did it come from?”

I find the English language fascinating, and I love to discover the origins of the words and expressions that we use. Here are a few that I have discovered:

Potholes – we all hate it when we are driving down the road and hit a hole, but have you ever wondered why they are called “potholes”? In medieval times, most cooking pots were made of pottery. Because clay to make pottery was expensive to buy, if a potter saw a good patch of clay along the road he would simply dig it up and take away with him, leaving behind a “pot hole.”

Slipshod – every parent knows how expensive it can be to keep shoes on children’s rapidly growing feet. Earlier generations solved the problem by cutting the backs of the shoes, turning them into slip-ons. Those who wore these shoes were referred to as “going slipshod” and in time the word slipshod came to mean “less than desirable.”

On/Off the Wagon – criminals condemned to death were transported to the gallows on a wagon. They were accompanied by several guards on the wagon with them, and a number of others who walked beside it. The entourage would call in to every tavern along the way, and the guards who were walking beside the wagon were allowed to drink, but those who were travelling on it were not. However, if those travelling on the wagon got off it, they were allowed to drink. (I have not been able to discover whether the poor bloke who was heading to his demise was allowed to indulge or not.)

Finally, a couple from the Bible:

A little bird told me – this is taken from Ecclesiastes 10:20, “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.”

By the skin of my teeth – this one has been altered slightly. It comes from the book of Job, when Job has lost everything including his health, and declares mournfully, “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” (Job 19:20)

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