Languages often hold onto words, phrases and their meanings long after their true meanings have been forgotten. Anyone who questions the literal meaning is often waved off or is told that ‘that is simply what is means’ and could be quite confused. However, the truth is that colloquialisms and idioms that are now in common use have very distinct origins. Below are some of the most interesting idioms we could find for your reading pleasure.
- Show your true colours – Although this generally means that one should show who they truly are, its origins are found in sailing when ships could only be identified by their banners or flags on their masts. Pirates would often fly under false flags but would often show their true colours by hoisting up its own flag when it got near enough.
- In the limelight – Being the centre of attention may have been one of the aims of nineteenth century theatre actors but it was so often the case that the lighting was creating by lime. Heat was created by holding a piece of lime on a flame burning oxygen and hydrogen and a strong lens then directed the light onto stage.
- Bark up the wrong tree – To make the wrong choice or pursue the wrong option. Hunting raccoons became a popular sport at one time and huntsmen often took dogs to hunt them at night time as they were nocturnal. It was usually the case that the dogs would choose the wrong tree and start ‘barking up the wrong tree’.
- Back to square one – This idiom finds its origins in the popular kid’s game ‘Snakes and Ladders’. For those unfamiliar with it, the player may land on a ‘snake’ square as they aim to finish the game and be swallowed and sent back down to square one from which they must start again.
- Get the sack – This phrase may have originated as far back as the 1500s when labourers carried all their tools and belongings in a sack and put it in their boss’s office during the day. At the end of the day if the boss was unhappy with their work he would hand them their sack and send them away.