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Words/phrases you use but don't always know how they came about.

This is a follow on from @B3's Words that push your button thread but with a slight difference.

The "Don't tar us all with the same brush" led me to wonder where our other oft used phrases originated.  

Take the "Chicken and Egg" quandary - why was it a chicken rather than any other bird ?  First domesticated fowl ?

Am also recently intrigued about "Right wing" and "Left wing".  I guess we all know what it means when relating to current politics but where did it come from ?  I've been reading about the start of the 1st WW and wondered whether it had something to do with Germany's planned invasion of Belgium and France - approaching from the north and the strength of their right wing being the most vital - something along the lines of "Let their right wing/shoulder brush the English Channel " ( paraphrase ).
Did Right Wing start then - strength, invasive, soon sort you lot out and Left Wing become the weaker element because Russia and the East were not considered too much of a threat in the years leading up to WW1 ?  The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine would seem to say the opposite - left wing ( Crimea etc ) was the stronger element which sits with Russia's claim to be "communist/Left wing".  I could be way off in this assumption of course so any ideas would be welcome.

There must be other phrases which we use from time to time but without knowing how they came into our common language.  

I'm not referring to regional dialect but "common English" which we all use or can at least understand.

Anyone got any favourites - preferably with some historic context if possible.



  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,627
    Right wing and left wing have their origin in the French Revolution.   This explains it - 

    Room to swing a cat has nothing to do with felines being maltreated but refers to an old naval punishment where sailors were punished by being whipped with a "cat of 9 tails", a brutal whip with multiple straps to inflict greater pain and flay the skin.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • B3B3 Posts: 26,421
    edited November 2022
    Cheap at half the price
    At sixes and sevens
    Nineteen to the dozen
    It ain't half........
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • punkdocpunkdoc Posts: 14,330
    A square meal. 

    Navy term, they used square plates, due to being on the sea, or something along those lines.
    How can you lie there and think of England
    When you don't even know who's in the team

    S.Yorkshire/Derbyshire border
  • Thanks @Obelixx - that's sorted that one out for me. 

    Thanks too @punkdoc - square plates tho ?  Food would surely still slop over in heavy seas wouldn't it ?  Hmm - I'll have to try and follow that one up I think  :
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,627
    @B3, I seem to remember form ENglish Lit at school that both Chaucer and Shakespeare used the term at 6s and 7s.

    I looked up 19 to the 12.  It's an engineering term from when pumps were used to clear flooded Cornish tin mines in the 18th century - a steam pump could pump out 19000 gallons of water for every 12 bushels of coal consumed to power it.   Interesting.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • BenCottoBenCotto Posts: 4,491
    The association of square meal and the navy is an example of back formation. In other words it is plausible in that the navy did use square trenchers but there is no documented evidence from ships’ logs to substantiate it. More likely it is simply square being used as an adjective meaning full or substantial. Fair and square has the same sense.

    Obelixx, I had no idea that 6s and 7s featured in Shakespeare and Chaucer. My understanding of the phrase’s origin in the order of priority of London Guilds is therefore shredded.
    Rutland, England
  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 22,279
    Right as rain.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • BenCottoBenCotto Posts: 4,491
    Disgruntled interests me because folk, trying to be smart, say that if disgruntled means to be annoyed why, they rhetorically ask, can’t we be gruntled when we’re pleased. 

    The answer is in the three components of the word. Dis we think of as being a negation but, very occasionally, it is an intensifier equivalent to very. Disturb is an example. Grunt is obvious but the le on the end of a word sometimes signifies a frequentative. One spark, but lots of sparks sparkle, crack/crackle, sniff/sniffle. So pigs foraging with gusto gruntle, and humans complaining of their lot grunt while complaining all the time they gruntle. And thus the word disgruntled.
    Rutland, England
  • wild edgeswild edges Posts: 9,893
    I just want to know why Welsh people use the word 'now' when they don't mean now at all. Everyone knows the 'know in a minute' thing but I heard a mum at the school this morning tell someone she would do something 'now when I get home tonight.'
    Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people
  • Top dog underdog. Referred to the saw pit when large logs were cut length wise into planks, with a double handed saw.  The top dog was the man on top the underdog was in the pit being showered with sawdust with every stroke. 
    AB Still learning

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