Say What? The Historical Origins of Common English Sayings

Have you ever wondered where everyday expressions like “break the ice” or “bite the bullet” came from? Well, here’s the 411 on the quirky and intriguing etymology of some of the most popular sayings we all use regularly. Prepare to be surprised!

“Break the Ice”

Some believe this common saying to originate in big ships plowing through Arctic waters, but that’s actually false. The real deal dates back to the 17th century when Samuel Butler first used it in his poem “Hudibras.” He made the connection between figuratively broken silence and literally broken ice.

“Bite the Bullet”

Literary genius Rudyard Kipling was the one to popularize this gem in his 1891 novel The Light that Failed. However, some people claim it goes way back to a time when people physically bit down on bullets to dull the pain during surgeries. 

“Cat’s Out of the Bag”

This one comes from medieval marketplaces, where farmers used to sell little piggies in bags. Sneaky sellers would sometimes swap them out for the less valuable cats, and if a wise buyer would spot the scam, the cat was literally out of the bag.

“Caught Red Handed”

This saying dates back to 15th century Scotland, where blood on one’s hands was considered a one-way ticket to guilt town. Being “caught red-handed” meant you were definitely guilty, no questions asked.

“Saved by the Bell”

Last but not least, let’s dig into “saved by the bell”, an expression driven from the tough world of 19th-century boxing. When someone was in the ring and things were looking bleak, that bell ringing at the end of the round was their lifeline.

Was Isaac Newton’s Theory of Gravitation Inspired By an Apple Falling From a Tree?

Even people who are not interested in science are familiar with the story of an apple falling from a tree, which inspired famous English...

Should William Shakespeare’s Authorship of His Plays and Sonnets Be Questioned?

William Shakespeare wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets, and three narrative poems over the course of his life. However, some believe that Shakespeare didn’t actually...

Let’s Take a Look at the French Revolution

The French Revolution, which began in 1789, is one of the most significant events in modern history. It marked a break from the historical...