We 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?