The Internet Times Supplement

A Turn of Phrase

In Odd, Words on August 24, 2009 at 11:14 am

Every country has idioms and expressions that often have plausible and relevant origins. Here are some from England…
=================

In the 1500s:

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all
pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the
tannery…….if you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”
But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even
afford to buy a pot………..they “didnt have a pot to piss in” and
were the lowest of the low.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in
May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they
were starting to smell . .. . brides carried a bouquet of flowers to
hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when
getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the
house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other
sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the
babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone
in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath
water!”

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood
underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the
cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it
rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and
fall off the roof. Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This
posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings
could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a
sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy
beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt.
Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would
get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on
floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added
more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start
slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way.
Hence: a thresh hold.

(Getting quite an education, aren’t you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that
always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added
things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much
meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot
to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew
had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme:
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine
days old.

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special.
When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off.
It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They
would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around
and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid
content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead
poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the
next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of
the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the
upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would
sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking
along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.
They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the
family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they
would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of
places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the
bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these
coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the
inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they
would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the
coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would
have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to
listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was
considered a dead ringer…

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