Never argue with an idiom… uncommon origins of common phrases

Language is a curious thing, constantly evolving. Some of the latest additions to the Merriam-Webster dictionary include: athleisure (clothing designed for exercise and general use) and nomophobia (fear of not having access to a working cell phone). What intrigues me even more than new words and phrases is the origin of sayings such as, “it’s raining cats and dogs,” and “dressed to the nines.” After a bit of research, this is what I discovered about the possible origination of a few common words and expressions.

If someone tells you to “put a sock in it,” you know it’s time to stop talking. In the late nineteenth century, the first gramophones produced sound through large horns. There was no volume button, so if it got too loud, they would use a sock to muffle the noise.

When you are under extreme emotional stress, you may feel “beside yourself.”  There is an ancient belief that under difficult circumstances, a person’s soul would separate from the body and walk beside it until the situation righted itself.

“Bury the hatchet” started out quite literally. Before Native Americans agreed to discuss armistice between warring tribes, they would bury their tomahawks. To this Raining cats and dogsday, it still means to make peace.

You know it’s pouring when you hear someone say, “it’s raining cats and dogs.” I once
read something about creatures hanging out in thatched roofs and falling during storms. My latest search turned up a better explanation. According to Teuton mythology, the wind was a giant dog and companion of Odin, the supreme Norse deity. The Teutons believed that during storms, Odin’s dog (the wind) was chasing a cat (the rain), thus Odin was dropping cats and dogs from the sky.

couple on a dateWhen I am dressed to the nines,” I must be headed somewhere pretty fancy. The term is from an 18th century saying meaning perfection or the highest standards.

Many authors throw in a “red herring” to keep you from figuring out the real solution to a mystery. Originally, criminals would cover their trail with a strong-smelling, smoked, red herring to throw pursuing dogs off their scent.

Translated from the Spanish phrase, sangre azul, blueblood implies an upper class heritage. In the 1800s, the aristocratic Castile families claimed to be pureblooded, with no genetic ties to the ruling Moors. Their proof was their pale skin through which you could see their veins.

I will end in the same way most people finish their day with “hitting the hay.” Early seamen had to provide their own bedding. The merchants sold hay stuffed into canvas covers to the sailors. When purchasing a ship bed, you would ask for a hay. As he went to catch some shuteye, the sailor would say he was going to “hit the hay.”

Hopefully, I have piqued your curiosity and you will continue to explore the origins of our language. Here are a few of the resources on the derivation of words and phrases you can find within the Boone County Public Library system:

Common Phrases and Where They Come From by John Mordock and Myron Korach

I Didn’t Know That: From “Ants in the Pants” to “Wet Behind the Ears” – the Unusual Origins of the Things We Say by Karlen Evins

Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas by Judy Parkinson

Common Phrases. . .and the Amazing Stories Behind Them by Max Cryer

I Love It When You Talk Retro by Ralph Keyes


A Circulation Assistant at the Florence Branch, Suzanne Yowler started her career in journalism and public relations. She established her free-lance writing business after her first son was born almost 20 years ago. English was always Suzanne’s best subject and she considers herself a Grammar Queen.

5 Reasons You Should Go to Both Tribute Concerts at Boone Woods Park this Summer


  1. Tumbling Dice 1The Glimmer Twins! The first tribute concert of the summer will be Tumbling Dice — five guys who genuinely have a passion for playing the Rolling Stones’ music. The band is led by its very own version of The Glimmer Twins – Guy McFadden, and guitarist and musical director, Dennis Lyons. Together they will guide you on a thrilling tour-de-force through the Rolling Stones legendary catalog. Their show is never contrived, never choreographed and always a wild ride! Don’t miss their show on Saturday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at Boone Woods Park in Burlington.
  2. You forgot to purchase your McCartney tickets and now all the good seats are gone! The final tribute concert in the Boone Woods Park line up this McCartney Postersummer is The McCartney Project. This band covers more than three decades of the most popular Beatles hits through the monster hits of Wings and more. This is a fun, high-energy show from the opening song through the closing encore. Each song replicates the authentic, iconic sound of Paul McCartney’s music. Leading The McCartney Project is Tony Burlingame. He has been paying tribute to Paul McCartney for years and bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Paul. Decide for yourself if he really looks like Paul at the concert on Saturday, July 23 at 7 p.m. at Boone Woods Park.
  3. You can sit where you want and bring your own food! Just pick a place on the lawn, spread out your blanket, open your cooler and enjoy the show! No need to purchase overpriced food from a concert vendor or walk down aisles searching for your seat number!
  4. No admission fee! That’s right, you do not have to purchase a ticket to see the concert – you’ve already paid. The concerts are brought to you by Boone County Public Library and Boone County Parks Department and as a Boone County taxpayer, you’ve already paid by funding both the Library and the Parks No GoatsDepartment!
  5. You don’t need a babysitter! Bring the kids with you! You can also bring your neighbors’ kids, your grand kids, your kid gloves…almost any kind of kid except for young goats. Please do not bring young (or old) goats to the park.

Boone Woods Park is located at 6000 Veteran’s Way in Burlington, Kentucky. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. In case of rain, the concerts will be held at the Main Library, 1786 Burlington Pike in Burlington. Inclement weather after 5 p.m. may not allow enough time to move all of the sound equipment and instruments indoors. Call the Rain Out Hotline at 859-334-2283 for weather updates.



PR Coordinator Becky Kempf has been telling people about the Library for almost thirteen years. When she isn’t busy evangelizing about books, reading and the Library’s concert series, she’s out photographing dogs, birds, rusty old cars and her grandchildren.