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Why do we say that? 27 Origins of the phrases we love

10. Bite the bullet

Meaning: to buckle down and do something you don’t want to do or are afraid to do

Origin: Before the use of anesthetic in surgery, battlefield medics gave wounded soldiers a bullet to bite on so he’d be less likely to scream during surgery.

11. Throw your hat in the ring

Meaning: to add yourself to the roster for competition/election

Origin: During the 1800s, those who wanted to take on a fighter would throw their hats into the boxing ring.

12. A feather in your cap

Meaning: something one is proud of, usually an accomplishment

Origin: Many believe this phrase originates from the custom of a warrior adding a feather to his hat or headdress for each enemy he has killed in battle.

13. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

Meaning: to not find fault with something you’ve received as a gift or favor

Origin: One can assess the age of a horse (and therefore value when said horse is meant for hard labor or other tasks in which youth is an advantage) by reviewing its teeth. Generally, it takes a specialist to really make this determination, but the phrase refers to avoiding checking the horse’s age when it’s given as a gift.

14. God helps those who help themselves

Meaning: simply praying won’t help; you must take initiative in order for God to act

Origin: This is often mistaken as biblical scripture, but it doesn’t appear in the Bible (though a form of it is in the Quran). It actually originates in ancient Greek tragedies in multiple forms. The sentiment is meant to emphasize the importance of taking initiative, and generally notes that higher powers are more likely to help those who take it.

15. May you live in interesting times

Meaning: Supposedly a Chinese curse, this seemingly positive statement is meant to curse the recipient to chaos.

Origin: There’s no evidence this is a Chinese proverb (or curse), but the phrase was in use as early as 1936 where it appeared in a memoir by Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the British ambassador to China, who noted it was something a friend told him.

16. How do you like those [them] apples?

Meaning: generally a gloat, as in “so there!”; could also be a way to express shock

Origin: Many believe this phrase originated with a “toffee apple,” a type of trench mortar bomb often used to destroy tanks during World War I. A character in the John Wayne movie Rio Bravo illustrates how some believe the phrase itself came to be when he tosses an explosive into the air, and after his partner shoots it and it explodes, killing the enemy, he exclaims, “How do you like them apples?”

17. Caught red handed

Meaning: caught in the act or with the evidence of the act still on them

Origin: This 15th-century Scottish phrase has changed a bit over the years (it used to be “with red hand”), but it refers to being caught with blood on your hands from murder or poaching.

18. Throw the baby out with the bathwater

Meaning: usually through gross oversight, to throw out something needed or beneficial in order to get rid of something unnecessary or bad

Origin: Derived from a German proverb, the earliest recorded version noted that while one must throw out the bathwater, one must avoid throwing the baby out with it. It probably became a phrase because long ago, when people bathed infrequently and often shared water, the head of the house would bathe first, followed in succession by others, and by the time the baby got to the water, it was, well, you can imagine.

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