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Phrase Origins

It’s time to look at the history of some more common phrases we use in everyday life. Some of these you may have known and others will make you go “Hmmm…”.

Break a Leg

As you may or may not know, the term “break a leg” comes from the theater. Superstitions “run amok” in the theater and it is not in good taste to wish an actor/actress good luck on their performance because the superstition is that the opposite will happen. So to wish someone good luck on their performance, one says “break a leg” and the opposite is supposed to happen. I had thought this term came to play when an understudy would say it to the star, in hopes the star would actually break a leg, allowing the understudy to perform. I guess not.

Run Amok

When someone is going around acting crazy or when children are out playing in the mud and making messes, it is called running amok. A misnomer is that this term had come from sailors and when their ship had run aground in the muck, they have simply run amuck. Actually it comes from the Maylasian word of “amoq” or “amuco” and is when the tribesmen got all hopped up on opium, they would go crazy and start running the streets and maiming people who get in their way.

Once in a Blue Moon

The blue moon is actually the second full moon that happens within the same month of the full moon and is very rare so when they go out to dinner and a movie every once in a blue moon, they rarely do it.

Pleased as Punch

When someone is very happy, they are pleased as Punch and this phrase comes from the 17th century with a popular childrens’ puppet show called “Punch and Judy”. Punch would go around and kill people which in turn made him very happy doing so.

Caught Red-Handed

This means being caught in the act of doing something wrong and originated from an old law. If someone was caught butchering meat that didn’t belong to him and the blood of the meat was on the offender’s hand, he would be arrested. Hence the red-handed. If you had the meat but no blood on your hands, then you were not arrested. Simply having the meat does not make one guilty.

Eat Humble Pie

If you are “eating humble pie” then it means that you are making an apology and suffering humiliation for it. This phrase originated in the Middle Ages when the lord of the manor would hold a dinner party after a successful hunt. The lord would get the finest cut of the meat while those of a lower station would receive a pie with the innards of the animal, called “umbles”. If you received this pie, it was very humiliating because then all of the guests would know that person is of a lower class of people.

There you have it. The history of some more common phrases that we use in everyday language.

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