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Phrase Etymology

This weeks history article is going to be a little different. This article is going to focus on a different kind of history. In this article we are going to discover the etymology of common phrases that we use almost every day. Phrases like “holding a wake” or being “saved by the bell.” These two phrases have kind of a gruesome origin so we will look at them first. Now, some of you may know the origins of these phrases and some of you may not, so I thought it would be fun to check them out anyway.

Holding a Wake
When a friend or a loved one dies, we normally hold a wake so we can say good-bye to them or have a party to celebrate their life. Did you know that “holding a wake” was actually started by people having a party around the coffin of the dead person just to be sure that he/she was really dead and didn’t wake up? It stemmed from the fear of being buried alive.

Saved By the Bell
You hear this phrase a lot in the sport of boxing when a boxer is in trouble and the bell rings to end the round, the boxer gets a chance to rest and to be attended to by his team. He was saved by the bell. We also use the phrase when someone is asked a particularly hard or personal question by another person and his/her phone rings, that person was saved by the bell in order to answer the phone. You get the idea. However, did you know that saved by the bell also stemmed from a fear of being buried alive?

When people fell into a coma, they were thought to be dead and when they woke up from the coma, they found they were buried alive, so when someone was buried, they tied a string to the toe of the dead person and the string came out of the coffin and up to a bell by where they were buried. Someone had to sit in the graveyard all night in case a bell rang and he would have to get help or start digging the coffin up.

Rule of Thumb
The rule of thumb is used today as an expression to problem solving, but, it was started in 1886 by a man named Sir Francis Buller where he made the rule that a man could beat his wife with a stick as long as it was no thicker than the man’s thumb.

I will give you one more and save the rest for future articles. In the next phrase, My Ears are Ringing, actually goes back to the ancient Romans who apparently had a strange preoccupation with burning sensations in various organs of their bodies and when they had a “ringing” or tingling in their ears, it meant one of two things. If their left ear tingled it meant someone was going to do them harm in some way but if their right ear tingled, it meant they were being praised or they were going to have some kind of good luck.

So there you go. Some typical phrases we use in every day life and their original meanings. Did you know any of these?

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