10 Common English Idioms and Their Weird Historical Origins

10 Common English Idioms and Their Weird Historical Origins


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If there’s one thing most people take for granted, it’s the language they grew up speaking. The words we use and their respective meanings are the product of centuries of linguistic evolution that we rarely consider. Today, much of our social interaction is characterized by turns of phrase that would seem completely nonsensical if not for their widespread use—we call them idioms (and if you’re wondering where that term came from, it’s Greek, and means “personal.”)

For example, if you’re shocked or surprised by a big revelation, you might scream “the cat’s out of the bag!” But you’re not, in actuality, referring to any cat that was previously hiding inside a bag. When a friend addresses the glaring issue you’ve both danced around for months, you’re finally recognizing the “elephant in the room,” though there isn’t a literal elephant anywhere nearby, probably.

It turns out, these idioms didn’t materialize at random. Here’s a look at the origins of 10 silly things we say.



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