Week of April 1 – Origin of words and phrases

Posted on by jennys-admin

“Raining Cats and Dogs:”  The origin of this saying dates back to the 1600s. Poor drainage systems on buildings in the 17th century caused gutters to overflow, spewing out along with water, garbage and a few unexpected critters. It is possible that animals such as rodents lived in the thatched roofs and when it rained heavily, the dead carcasses would fall––undoubtedly unpleasant! As far as large dogs falling from the sky…well…that one will have to remain a mystery.

“To be Stumped:” Being “stumped” comes from the pioneering days when the land was cleared to lay down train tracks. When the workers came across a tree stump, it would cause a dilemma or “to be stumped.”

“Wrong Side of the Tracks:”-Before there were cars, trains were an important means of transportation. Of course, pollution wasn’t a big concern so when a train rolled by, heavy black smoke and soot went with it. Usually the wind blew the black smoke to one side of the tracks and only the poorest of people would endure living in that hard to breathe environment. No one wanted to be on “the wrong side of the tracks.

“Vis-à-Vis'” the first meaning was the literal translation from the French, i.e. “face to face. ”  Another meaning is a small two seater carriage in which passengers sit face to face.  These carriages are similar to the four seater version that Queen Elizabeth uses each year to tour the course at the Royal Ascot race meeting.  Also defined as “in relation to” or “with respect to”  For example:  the position of our organization vis-à-vis global warming to support efforts to reduce carbon emissions.   

“Everything but the kitchen sink: – comes from World War Two when everything possible was used to contribute to the war effort…all metal was used for the U.S arsenal. The only objects left out were porcelain kitchen sinks. 

“Don’t  throw the baby out with the bath water” – What’s one to do when they only have one basin of bath water and a litter of children to be bathed? Easy! Use the same bath water and dump it out when your last child gets lost in it! Back in the pre-running water days, the order of the household determined which family member got to take the bath first. The man (or head of the household) naturally went first, followed by the children and the baby last. The water would become so dirty that when a baby was bathed in it, he could possibly be lost or even tossed out! 



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