Tween Talk with Eugenia: Expressions worth (really) understanding…


My love for idioms (aka idiomatic expressions) was birthed in class 7 back in Ridge Church School; my English teacher was Mrs. Abbam (she is still alive and well at 96). She could make a Frenchman fall in love with the English language – and that’s saying a lot!! She was very animated and dramatic in her teaching style, and that added fun to the session and ensured we didn’t forget the lessons.

Mrs. Abbam would once a week, give us idioms which, today, people would give anything to have. We used to think she was loading us with too much information we wouldn’t have need for. Oh were we so wrong!! Starting from our end of primary school national exams (called Common Entrance), we had to write essays with rich vocabulary. That’s how Mrs. Abbam’s little book of expressions she had each of us keep came in handy. The first idiom in my little book of expressions (what? You’re surprised I still have it?!) is – never in my wildest dreams did I expect. I used this expression every time I had to write an essay no matter the topic. Talk about an obsession, huh?!

As the years wore on, I began to ponder over the expressions; what do they really mean? Where did they come from? A stitch in time saves nine, a rolling stone gathers no moss, etc. I’m a very visual person so words evoke images in my mind to help me understand it better. I found the origins and meanings to many of them later and have remained fascinated about that. Check these out:

  1. Between the devil and the deep blue sea – means, to be stuck between two difficult positions or situations.

Origin: back in the day, the heavy plank fastened to the side of a vessel as support was called the devil. Sometimes sailors would go out onto this plank to do repair works on the boat – in the heavy seas, he would be considered to be in great danger of falling overboard and drowning as he was between ‘the devil and the deep blue sea’. And I had always erroneously thought it had something to do with the devil himself?!

  1. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth – means you’re born to wealth, comfort and priviledge.

Origin – a spoon made out of silver is considered expensive, and back then a silver spoon was given as a gift for a newborn. Today, the expression is used to describe a child or person who has many expensive things from the start of life

  1. Catch someone red-handed – to catch someone in the act of wrongdoing.

Origin: This idiom first referred to someone caught in the middle of a murder with blood on their hands (red-handed), before becoming a saying to mean any kind of wrongdoing.

That explains it!

  1. Get up on the wrong side on the bed – means to awake with a bad temper or mood

Origin: in ancient Rome, the left side of anything was considered evil. The word ‘sinister’ comes from the Latin word for ‘left’. Ancient Romans believed bad luck came to anyone who set their left foot down first when getting out of bed; this begat the expression ‘got up left foot forward’ and morphed into this one.

  1. Kick the bucket – meaning, to die

Origin: it was an English expression from the 16th Back then, the practice was to hang a criminal by having him stand on a bucket, putting a noose around his neck, and then kicking the bucket from under him, leading to his death (by hanging). Prisoners who committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells would kick the bucket from under their own legs. And that’s how this expression was birthed and today, applies to any kind of death

  1. Let your hair down – means to relax and show one’s true self   

Origin: This expression started in the 1800s when many women wore their long hair pinned up in public and only let it down in private, especially just before they went to bed – showing their true self with little to no inhibitions in the process.

I don’t know about you, but what I found most fascinating about these expressions is their origin; some of them are obvious and others are so not what I thought. Feel the same way?

*source of origins – Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms


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