The English language includes a number of funny expressions that we may not know the history of, here are a few that we do know about.
When was the last time you had ‘a good square meal’? What is a square meal? We take it to mean a substantial meal, something to feed the inner person and leave them satisfied. The origin was the Royal Navy of the 19th Century, the days of sail, when food aboard ship was served on a square trencher (wooden plate). On a ship at sea circular plates would roll around where as square wooden trenchers would not, and the squares were easier to make and keep clean – ish.
Hair of the dog, generally means having an alcoholic drink to ease a hangover, but it is believed that the expression originates from the 16th Century when those bitten by a rabid dog had their wound treated with hair from said dog burned before application. This seemingly was the accepted cure for rabid dog bites for two hundred years or more, which probably increased the death rate substantially.
For the high jump, based upon the sad demise of those sentenced to hang. So, anyone who is for the high jump is in big trouble but thankfully not quite that much. Whilst, going for a Burton originated in Durham when a man called Burton took two goes to succumb, the last attempt whilst seated in a chair because the poor chap was unable to stand. Crumbs!
Biting the bullet, when you have to knuckle down and get on with something you really don’t want to do. Prior to the advent of anesthetics soldiers were made to bit on a bullet whilst ‘field’ surgery was performed, the purpose was twofold, to stop them screaming and frightening their mates to death and to distract them from what was being done to them. Those who did not die of their wounds probably died of shock or lead poisoning.
Flavour of the Month, meaning someone who is popular, or in sarcasm about someone else who is seen to be ‘flavour of the month’. It is an American phrase that originated from an Ice Cream Company that created a different flavour of the month each month to encourage people to try a different taste once in a while. Presently, it is used to describe any short-lived craze, fashion or person that is quickly dropped after a time of being in demand.
Walls have ears, hush someone may be listening, a comment that is reminiscent of spy movies where Bond finds a bug in every bunch of flowers etc. Catherine de ’Medici, wife of Henry II of France, installed listening tubes in the rooms of the Louvre Palace, when it was a palace and not yet an art gallery. This is how the suspicious Queen discovered state secrets and plots, shades of ‘tricky Dickie Nixon’ the infamous American President who also bugged the White House. Nothing is new, is it?
Durham City and County has its own every day sayings that we should love to share, please send them in via www.durhammagazine.co.uk and they will be published if appropriate.