The Origins of Odd Sayings

Break the ice 

Back when road transportation was not developed, ships would be the only transportation and means of trade. At times, the ships would get stuck during the winter because of ice formation. The receiving country would send small ships to “break the ice” to clear a way for the trade ships. This gesture showed affiliation and understanding between two territories. 

Bite the Bullet 

In the olden days, when doctors were short on anaesthesia or time during a battle, they would ask the patient to bite down on a bullet to distract from the pain. The first recorded use of the phrase was in 1891 in The Light that Failed. 

Butter someone up 

This was a customary religious act in ancient India. The devout would throw butter balls at the statues of their gods to seek favour and forgiveness. 

Barking up the wrong tree 

This refers to hunting dogs that may have chased their prey up a tree. The dogs bark, assuming that the prey is still in the tree, when the prey is no longer there. 

turn a Blind eye 

The British Naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, had one blind eye. Once when the British forces signalled for him to stop attacking a fleet of Danish ships, he held up a telescope to his blind eye and said, “I do not see the signal.” He attacked, nevertheless, and was victorious. 

Bury the hatchet 

This one dates back to the early times North America when the Puritans were in conflict with the Native Americans. When negotiating peace, the Native Americans would bury all their hatchets, knives, clubs, and tomahawks. Weapons literally were buried and made inaccessible. 

give a cold shoulder 

In medieval England, it was customary to give a guest a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of mutton, pork, or beef chop when the host felt it was time for the guest to leave. This was a polite way to communicate, “You may leave, now.” 

let ones hair down 

 

Aristocratic women of medieval times were obliged to appear in elegant hair-dos that were usually pulled up. The only time they would “let their hair down” was when they came home and relaxed. 

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