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Bury the hatchet while red handed

We utter them nearly every day, but are we aware of what those common sayings really mean?

Take for example the phrase: He’s tighter than Dick’s hatband. According to the Urban Dictionary, that’s an old southern idiom that could be used to identify a person who is wound up, or any number of situations where the word “tight” is used. Nobody seems to know who Dick was. Apparently he had a tough time keeping his hat on his head.

Here are some others that www.goodhousekeeping.com helps us understand their origin and meaning:

“Toot your own horn”

Back in the sixteenth century, the arrival of a VIP into town was signaled by the trumpeting of horns. If a person blows their own horns (or toots them), it’s still seen as being proud or arrogant.

“Get the hell out of dodge”

Yes, Dodge City is a real place in Kansas. The phrase is brand-new, relatively speaking. “Get the hell out of Dodge!” was a command thrown at villains on the TV and radio series Gunsmoke.

“Off the wagon”

There are several theories behind the expressions of being on or off the wagon — that is, when an alcoholic is abstaining from or indulging again in drinking. One idea is that water wagons carried supplies to citizens during Prohibition, so if you were drinking just water you were on the wagon.

“Like white on rice”

If you’re encouraged to stay right on top of something — a task or responsibility — you might be as close to it as white is on rice; that is to say, inseparable. Yeah, it’s a little bizarre but so is a lot of the English language!

“Say uncle”

Your opponent may ask you to say or cry “Uncle!” as a means of surrender. It’s a particularly inexplicable phrase, and it may trace its origins way, way back — like back to the Roman empire, when it’s believed that children cried out for their patruus (Latin for uncle) to help them when being bullied.

“Talking a blue streak”

To talk a blue streak means to talk with speed and energy, and some linguists believe that the colorful phrase was inspired by lightning, that rapid blue streak through the sky.

“Mind your own beeswax”

This phrase has some folklore in its history: It’s believed that pioneer ladies created their candles by dipping wax in their own individual cauldrons or pots. If you didn’t mind your own, you might get burned.

“Close but no cigar”

Legend for this one says that American fairgrounds and carnivals used to hand out cigars for prizes if you tried your hand at a game. If you almost won, you were close, but didn’t get a cigar.

“Sweating bullets”

To sweat bullets is to sweat profusely, with giant drops, but the phrase’s origin may be more complicated than the drops resembling bullets. The Word Detective believes the expression evolved from “sweating blood,” which refers back to Jesus’ fateful walk in the Bible.

“Cat out of the bag”

The origin story behind this one is particularly silly: Merchants used to sell piglets off to farms in bags. If they were swindling their customers, though, they might stick a cat in there instead — the cheaper, more common animal. They wouldn’t find out until the cat was out of the bag.

“Bite the dust”

Here’s another pleasant visual: Someone falls forward in death, and their shocked, open mouth eats the dirt (or bites the dust) when they hit the ground. That seems to be the origin of this phrase, which appeared as “licking the dust” in the Bible.

“Hair of the dog”

More than just a popular name for a pub, hair of the dog is one of the oldest idioms known to man. Some linguists say that ancient Middle Eastern texts make references to sticking dog hair to one’s forehead to quell a hangover.

“Break a leg”

To wish someone good luck immediately before a performance would be too easy, or so believe a long tradition of actors and dancers — the phrase was used in English throughout the twentieth century. To break the superstition, people started hoping that the worst thing would happen instead.

“Heard it through the grapevine”

If you hear a bit of information through the grapevine, that suggests that it was via gossip, exchanged from person to person. That exchange is similar to a grapevine: twisted, overlapping, and occasionally sticky.

“Go cold turkey”

To quit something cold turkey means to stop using it abruptly and completely. Most experts believe that the phrase comes from the goosebumped flesh that addicts get when they are going through withdrawal, which is similar to that of a cold turkey.

Here are a few more from www.boredpanda.com:

“Bury the hatchet”

The origin of this phrase, which means to end a quarrel or conflict, is that during negotiations between Puritans and Native Americans, men would bury all of their weapons, making them inaccessible.

“Big wigs”

It means an important person. Back in the 18th century, the most important political figures would wear the biggest wigs, hence today influential people are called big wigs.

“Caught red handed”

This phrase is used to indicate that a person has been discovered in or just after the act of doing something wrong or illegal. It originated from an old law stating that if someone butchered an animal that didn’t belong to him, he would only be punished if he was caught with blood on his hands. If one was caught with the meat but his hands were clean, he would not be punished.

“Bite the bullet”

It means to do something difficult or unpleasant that one has been putting off or hesitating over. Origin: During battles there was no time to administer anesthesia while performing surgeries. Because of that, patients were made to bite down on bullets to distract themselves from the pain.

What are some of your favorite idioms? Share them with me at the contact information shown below.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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