Common Phrases’ Origin and History That Will Leave You Shocked

We love using the common everyday phrases which add an eloquence as well as a touch of wit and charm to our conversation. However, did you know that all of the most common phrases have some very shocking origin stories behind them that will leave you shaking your head in wonder? Check out the histories of ten of the most common phrases that you must be using quite frequently.

1. Bite the Bullet

The phrase is said when you have to accept something that you do not like or something that is unpleasant. The origin story of this phrase dates back to historical battlegrounds when wounded soldiers were brought into the first aid tent, and surgery had to be performed on the spot. Since there was no time to administer anesthesia, the wounded soldiers were given a bullet to bite to keep them from screaming in pain while surgery was performed.

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2. Blood is thicker than water

This phrase denotes that blood relatives or family comes above everyone else. The phrase originated in the medieval times which was a time when blood pacts and blood rituals were considered to be the most sacred. Blood rituals between two people symbolized a bond as unbreakable and close as those of family relatives.

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3. Break the ice

When you initiate a friendship or a commercial project with another partner, you often undergo an ‘ice-breaking’ period which signifies the commencement of that project. This phrase comes from the time when small boats were used to break the ice frozen on the surface of the rivers in winter so that the bigger ships could sail inland towards the ports signifying the commencement of the trading activity.

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4. Butter someone up

To butter someone up means to flatter someone, usually someone from whom you want some favor. The phrase is often used as a more common term for sycophancy and is generally associated with a younger colleague piling on undue praises on his boss in the hopes of a promotion or pay raise. The origin of the phrase is rooted in Hinduism where it was once a practice to throw balls of clarified butter at a statue of a god in the hopes of gaining that god’s favor.

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5. Cat got your tongue

The phrase is used for a person who suddenly finds himself at a loss for words when he is too shocked, surprised or is just bested by another speaker. There are two origins to this phrase. The first is from a particular whip called the cat-o-nine-tails which was said to inflict so much pain that the person receiving the flogging was not able to speak for days afterward. The second origin story is much more brutal as it involves the ancient practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats.


6. Caught red-handed

A common enough phrase, especially in the reference of a criminal, the phrase itself originated from an ancient law. This law stated that a person who has illegally butchered an animal could be held guilty only if he has the animal’s blood on his hand, literally making his hands red. Till today, this phrase is used whenever a person is caught doing something wrong such that he cannot deny it.

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7. Eat Humble Pie

In today’s time, eating humble pie means when you have to suffer humiliation because you have been proved to be wrong and also have to apologize for whatever you have done. The origin of this phrase involves eating of pie.

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Whenever the lord of a manor threw a feast, the people belonging to lower ranks were served the worst parts of the meat which are known as ‘humble.’ It was considered to be humble pie because it automatically revealed the lower disposition of the officials who were eating it.

8. Give the cold shoulder

When you are intentionally ignoring someone, you are said to be giving him the cold shoulder. The origin of the phrase however actually denotes a very different kind of meaning. In ancient times, a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef or pork was given by the host to his guests when he wanted them to leave.

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9. Go the whole nine yards

When you want someone to try their very best and leave no stone unturned, you tell them to go the whole nine yards. This phrase originated during the World War when soldiers used to receive a chain of ammunition measuring 9 yards. When a soldier used up all his ammo on one target, he was said to go the whole 9 yards.

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10. Let your hair down

Letting your hair down denotes relaxing and being at ease. The story behind this phrase perfectly fits this meaning as it originates from the time when aristocrats used to make elaborate hairstyles and up-dos for going out in the society and could relax only when they let their hair down in the evening at home.

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