Phrases we use often

familiar-phrasesWe have talked about these before and had a good time doing it so I thought we’d try it again.  It was the “Good Question” on the news Saturday night and these were some good ones.

They are called “idioms.” Phrases we use so often, we don’t even think of what they mean. Many of the questions viewers send in have to do with the origin of popular expressions. 

Why do we call skipping work, “playing hooky?” – Mike from Minneapolis 

The term “playing hooky” was first found in print in 1848. During the 1800’s, it was common to call dishonest behavior, “hooky-crooky.” You may have heard the phrase, “by hook or by crook, meaning to do whatever it takes. Playing hooky was first used to describe truancy — skipping school. Now we use it for any kind of skipping. 

Why do we say break a leg? – JaLynn from DeGraff 

It’s a centuries-old tradition that dates back to the theatre. Actors are a superstitious bunch and they thought if you said” Good Luck” before a show it would backfire. So instead, they went with “break a leg” and the tradition stuck.

Why do we say “God bless you” when someone sneezes? – Brianna from Zimmerman 

There are many explanations, but the most common is that the phrase “God Bless You” began during the time of the bubonic plague. A sneeze was thought to be an early sign of the disease, so people would offer the brief prayer in hopes the sneezer would not develop the plague. 

Why do we “knock on wood” to keep bad luck away? – Eric Carlson, 10-years-old, North Mankato 

Some people think it’s because of a Pagan belief that evil spirits live in trees. So you’d knock on the wood, and then scare off the spirit. 

But a British historian traces the phrase to a children’s game in England called “Tiggy-touch-wood.” If you touch wood, like a tree, you’d be “safe” from being tagged. In England they say “touch wood.” Here, it became “knock on wood.” 

What’s the story with the children’s game “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck?” – Jill from Minneapolis. 

It’s a Minnesota thing. Everywhere else in the U.S. and in Canada, the game is called “Duck, Duck, Goose.” No one seems quite sure why Minnesotans latched onto the “grey duck,” although there is a real animal called the “grey duck.” 

Can you think of any more that you know the meanings of besides these?

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14 Responses to Phrases we use often

  1. Tony says:

    I musta had a deprived childhood, I never actually leasrned how to play duck duck goose. Still don’t know how it works. Any 8 year old bloggers out there that care to explain?

    • Laura (LS) says:

      Buncha kids sit in a circle…. one is out. Walks around the circle, tapping the heads of all the kids sitting there, saying, “duck” “duck” “duck”, until he picks one and says, “GOOSE!!” Then they both take off running around the circle of kids. If the kid makes it to the vacated spot without being tagged, the “Goose” stays out and begins the cycle again. If the kid gets tagged by the “Goose”, then “Goose” sits down, and the kid goes for another go-round, hopefully tagging a slower runner this time.

      yep. that’s me.

      8 years old and proud of it!

      • SKL says:

        I think they’re about to outlaw Duck Duck Goose though. Too competitive. When I was in school studying education, the “how to teach gym” teacher declared that that was the worst kind of game as (a) all the kids spend most of the time sitting and (b) the slower kids don’t have as pleasant an experience as the faster ones. So it’s no wonder some people have never heard of it nowadays.

        Just think, all those years our teachers / caregivers were chipping away at our self-esteem, inch by inch . . . . I’m waiting to see how today’s highly confident young adults will change the world . . . .


  2. pammy wammy says:

    Thanxs for the lesson joy,never heard them explained like that before.My favorite quote was of one of Grandmas she said when I was a child.”If you eat the crust of the bread,you will grow hair on your chest”.Years later,she explained her phrase.She said it so we wouldnt want the crust,cause it was her favorite piece of the bread.Now the crust is my favorite,and being older,I no that I wont grow hair on my chest.He he 🙂 Well I hope not,I am going threw menopause :)Will have to wait and see 🙂

    • Joy says:

      I remember grandma saying that too. The crust is my favorite piece of bread too. Maybe it’s because I think of her. Hopefully you won’t grow hair on your chest Pam. I didn’t (so far!!)

  3. Doraz says:

    “A little bird told me
    If someone doesn’t want to say where they got some information from, they can say that a little bird told them.”

    Do not know how this came about.
    Maybe Scooter, Bug, or Pilot will tell me, one day!

  4. Gary says:

    Those are cool Joy! Thanks for posting these! 😀

  5. starlaschat says:

    Knock on Naugahyde I say this when I’m in the car. I really like list like this to learn what these saying mean. I think it’s interesting learning the history.

  6. Joy says:

    I really like “A stitch in time saves nine” which means if you stitch something up before it gets to big, it takes a lot less time.

    I also love “you can’t see the forest through the tree’s” which means sometimes you look so hard for something and it’s right in front of you but it’s so close, you can’t see it.

  7. SKL says:

    Ever think how many come from religious stories?

    He thinks he walks on water . . . he’s my rock . . . he can move mountains . . . I know there are tons more but my brain isn’t working.

    Once I was in a business meeting with some US partners and a lot of Japanese businessmen. One of the US partners used the saying “split the baby” to reference some sort of compromise. All the Japanese people looked respectfully confused. It took me a second to figure this out as I’d never heard it before either. I wrote an email to the US-Japanese partner who was present, for her to explain the story of Solomon to our Japanese clients, who probably still think Americans are weird . . . .

  8. This was a fun post- I loved reading the meanings to these things!
    I don’t have any meanings of things that I know, but I DO know of a phrase that’s been used wrong for years!
    You know how people say “Curiosity killed the cat”? Well, that’s not the full phrase. The full phrase is “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.”

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