World Through The Lens
OLD ENGLAND: ORIGINS AND MEANINGS OF PHRASES, SAYINGS AND WORDS
In Shakespeare's time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase......... "goodnight, sleep tight."
In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts... So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them "Mind your pints and quarts, and settle down." It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's"
The saying 'There's not enough room to swing a cat ' comes from the olden days when sailors were punished by being whipped with a cat o'nine tails (whip with nine leather straps). However because there wasn't enough room below deck to lash the whip, the punishment was given on deck, where there was "enough room to swing the cat."
In the 1400's a law was set forth that a man was not allowed to beat his wife with a stick thicker than his thumb. Hence we have "the rule of thumb"
Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. "Wet your whistle" is the phrase inspired by this practice.
The word witch comes from the saxon word 'wicca' meaning 'wise one'.
The saying 'To get one's back up' (To show anger or annoyance) alludes to a cat or dog, whose fur sticks up on its back when under attack by another animal.
The saying 'The cat's out of the bag' (a secret revealed) originates in medieval England when piglets were sold in the open marketplace. The seller usually kept the pig in a bag, so it would be easier for the buyer to take home. But some dishonourable sellers would try and trick their customers by putting a large cat in the bag instead. However, if a shrewd buyer looked in the bag - then the cat was literally out of the bag. This good advice was first recorded in London around 1530: “When ye proffer the pigge open the poke" Incidently the bag was called a poke, which is where the saying 'a pig in a poke,' also comes from, which literally means 'to buy something which you cannot see' and thus 'to buy something whose true nature is unknown'. Also refers to buying something you don't want (i.e. cat!).
To 'Rub someone up the wrong way', (Irritate or upset someone) gets it's origins from the annoyance a cat displays when its fur is stroked backwards.
The saying 'The apple of my eye' means that the person who is saying it, is very proud and dearly loves the person he/she is referring to. There are five references to the saying in the King James version of the Old Testament, which demonstartes how old and respected this expression is. The pupil of the eye used to be known as the apple and was thought to be solid and spherical. Because it is also essential to sight, the eye's apple was to be cherished and protected so 'the apple of my eye' came to mean anything extremely precious.
The stone, as a measure of weight, came from Ancient Babylon, where sets of stones were kept for weighing commodities on a balance. The trouble was that different stones were used for different things, and in the English history of weights and measures the same held true. When weighing wool a stone was 16 pounds, but for a butcher or fishmonger the stone was 8 pounds. It was only standardised at 14 pounds in 1824 when the English imperial system was introduced.