Ever notice how many times an argument has started or a conversation has gotten out of hand just because of a misunderstanding of the other parties words or phrases? It is really strange, but the same statements, the exact same set of words, can have totally different meanings depending on what part of the country or the world you are from! For instance, person "A" will say something and person "B" will say "Um? That doesn't make sense. What an idiot!". However, if one understood the idiom, one would have a better grasp of context and meaning.
So, what in the hell is an idiom? Well, an idiom is a group of words whose meaning cannot be predicted from the meanings of the constituent words. In other words, they just don't make any sense! Here are a few idioms that are somewhat popular, depending on where you are from or are currently living at:
If you live in the rainy Pacific Northwest, the steamy Southern states, or perhaps a rain forest, you have probably heard the phrase "It was raining cats and dogs". While the true origin of the phrase is unknown, there is a prevailing theory that in the olden days in England, dogs and cats would sleep on the thatch or hay roofs of houses. When it rained, the roofs would become slippery and the animals would slide off or even fall straight through. Hence, it was "raining cats and dogs."
If you are sitting in the theater, there is a good chance that you might be sitting in the "Peanut Gallery". This term was popularized in the late 19th century and referred to the seats located in the balcony of the theater, or the cheapest seats. People in these seats would sometimes throw peanuts, which was (and still is!) a popular and common theater food of the time, on those seated below. the term was also used for those seated in the first row on the floor seats where the patrons could throw peanuts on stage if they were not pleased with the performance.
With regards to theater language, when "the plot thickens" it means that the situation has become more difficult or complicated.
Many consider theater performances to be luxuries for the wealthy, those who "live high on the hog". This expression came about because only the rich could afford the choicest cuts of pork, such as the loin, which only comes from the top of the pig.
The best cuts of pork were usually consumed at the time of butchering. the other cuts were often salt-cured for preservation and would be eaten during the winter. When Spring arrived, the people were often "scraping the bottom of the barrel", looking for any remaining scraps. Today the term is used to refer to the last remaining item, whether in the pantry, money in the budget or bank, last one chosen for team, etc.
Another term for the wealthy is the "Upper Crust". This term comes from New England, where the smell of freshly-baked bread wafted from the kitchens of country estates. The upper crust was the superior un-burnt part of the loaf which was served to the "gentry" or high society.
In biblical times, the "upper crust", or upper class, was offered the "fat of the land". This meant the fattest and best livestock, which was the measure of wealth at that time.Another familiar expression which has origins in the christian bible is "The salt of the earth". Salt was not only expensive, but it was also a vital preservative for food. People who are referred to as the salt of the earth were (and are!) considered to be very precious.
In line with thoughts about salt, a compliment that someone is "Worth their salt" means that they are doing a good job and that they are considered to be a valuable worker. This expression dates back to the Roman soldiers, who were sometimes paid with salt, instead of or in addition to coins or currency.
In stark contrast to a good worker stands the one who is not. A sorry or less-than-stellar worker may get "Canned" or "Sacked". This terminology came fro coal miners who were given a chit-a statement of the amount owed for food and drink-which they could then use at the company store. When they were let go or fired, their severance pay was often a can of food which was usually then placed in a paper sack.
Just as a bad worker can affect the attitude of their co-workers, a "Bad apple" can ruin a whole box or bag of apples. This term has been used with all kinds of produce, and with people as well! You certainly do NOT want to be the bad apple in any crowd!
If you find yourself in the rather unsavory position of being the bad apple (and seriously here, who hasn't?), you could then find yourself serving up some "Humble Pie". This statement or saying evolved in a rather curious way. In the 14th century, the heart, liver, entrails, etc of animals were called "numbles (or noumbles, nomblys, or noubles)" while in the 15th century they were called "umbles". The umbles were used as an ingredient in pies which were cheaply made, and only the lower classes would stoop to eating "humble pie". Hence, abasing or lowering oneself to the level of others was seen as taking oneself to a lower class.
Baker in Europe did not often bake humble pie, but rather pastries, cookies, rolls, and other fine confections. Because they could receive a very stiff punishment for shorting customers, the baker would just usually put 13 or more pieces in their order, just to be sure. This is where the term "Bakers Dozen" comes from.
British sailors on war ships in the 1700's would have certainly appreciated some humble pie or a generous bakers dozen! Their ships did not have the best living conditions, and usually a sailors breakfast and lunch was bread and a beverage! The third meal of the day included meat and was presented on a square tray. This is how the term "Square Meal" was coined- to identify the most substantial meal of the day.
A popular topping for pizza-Canadian bacon- has some hog geography behind its name! It has absolutely nothing to do with the country of Canada, other than its location relative to the United States. Traditional bacon is cut from the underbelly, or the south side, of a pig. Canadian bacon is cut from the loin area, which is the upper, or "northern" part. Hence-Canadian Bacon!
In England, it was customary to extend hospitality to everyone, even strangers. However, when the host chose to serve a "Cold Shoulder" of beef at the meal, it was a signal that it was time for the visitors to move on. This has come to be a term that now means to snub someone.
When wood stoves were used to cook beef shoulders and more, cooks used the front burners for intense heat and for stoking the fire to avoid having to reach across a hot stove top. When it was time to slow down or simmer the food, it was moved to the "Back Burner". Now the term is used for putting something on hold, such as a chore that you need, but do not want, to do.
How about a toast? Toasting is a tradition that seems to have sprung from several different meanings. It was a medieval tradition that honored the host with a gesture for long life, which entailed placing a crust of bread into a goblet of wine and raising it to the host in adaptation of the Holy Communion. It is also said to be a tactic to avoid being poisoned without being rude to your host by actually accusing him of poisoning you, in that when you "clink" your glasses together, you slop wine into each others cup, with the theory being that if served poisoned wine, the host would also be afflicted as well. This would supposedly act to prevent the likelihood of poisoning.
Can you think of any Idioms which may be common to your part of the country or the world?