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

19. The whole 9 yards

Meaning: to try one’s best; go all the way

Origin: During World War II, the ammunition gunners used in fighter planes were 9 yards long, so to say one gave it “the whole 9 yards” was to say one went all the way. That origin has been debunked due to its appearance previous to World War II, and Fred Shapiro described the phrase as “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time.” We have to agree with him. Despite being debunked, the ammunition explanation is still the best one we’ve found.

20. Let your hair down

Meaning: to behave in an uninhibited manner; to relax

Origin: During the 17th century, women commonly wore quite complex up-dos, and as such, it was likely a very freeing experience to come home at the end of the night and “let your hair down” before brushing, washing or bed.

21. Go cold turkey

Meaning: to stop (usually something addictive) suddenly and without assistance

Origin: Several theories surround this phrase. It could be a reference to cold turkey being a quick dish to prepare, from the phrase “talk turkey,” meaning to speak bluntly with little preparation or (as the phrase originally referred to heroin addicts) a metaphorical reference to the cold sweats and goosebumps one suffers during withdrawals.

22. Butter someone up

Meaning: to flatter in order to gain favor

Origin: In ancient India, people would throw balls of ghee (clarified butter) at the statues of gods in order to seek favor. Additionally, in Tibet, it’s an ancient tradition to create butter sculptures for the New Year for good luck (way more fun than black-eyed peas!).

23. Run amok

Meaning: to go crazy

Origin: From the Malaysian word amoq, which describes the wild and wacky behavior of tribesmen under the influence of opium.

24. Pass the buck

Meaning: to give responsibility to someone else (often with the connotation of placing blame)

Origin: Most people assume this has to do with a dollar bill (or money in general). And for those of you who do, you’re half right. In the wild, wild west, poker games were high stakes (as they often are now), but the penalties for being suspected of cheating were way higher, as you might imagine. The most common knife carried by ranchers and cowboys was called a buckhorn (or buck) knife. It was used in poker by placing it in front of the next person to deal (pretty ominous in a game in which the dealer is also a player and dealing is one of the easiest times to cheat). If it was your turn to deal but you didn’t want the responsibility, you’d pass the buck (knife) to the next dealer.

25. Give the cold shoulder

Meaning: a rude way (usually nonverbal) of indicating to a person that he or she is unwelcome

Origin: In medieval England, guests knew it was time to leave when the host gave them a slice of cold meat (which probably came from the shoulder of the animal). At the time, it was regarded as the polite way to end the evening, which is ironic given its now impolite connotation.

26. Turn a blind eye

Meaning: to ignore; pretend you don’t see

Origin: During the Battle of Copenhagen, Horatio Nelson was ordered to cease an attack he was launching on the enemy. When the commander’s officers pointed out the order, Nelson raised a telescope to his blind eye and claimed he saw no order.

27. Eat humble pie

Meaning: to apologize with great humiliation

Origin: Actually, it’s “umble” pie. Umble referred to the entrails and innards of a kill during a hunt, which were baked into a pie as the feast was prepared. Obviously, the lord would take the choice piece, but other cuts would be assigned based on the standing with the man in charge. Those in the lowest standing were definitely humiliated… they were forced to eat the umble pie that signified their lower status.

More word-nerdology

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