I usually close the bathroom door when I’m getting dressed. It’s what I do. However, my cats, once regarded as royalty, regard a closed door as a personal insult.
After a few noisy minutes, I was tired of hearing loud caterwauling on the other side of the door, and yelled out, “Hold your horses!. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
Then it struck me. What does this idiom really mean and where did it originate? Who came up with this? I’m guessing it was a rancher.
But what made it stick? How was it able to stand the test of time and make it into the top 10 of our unconscious vocabulary? Did my cats have any idea what I was talking about? Do they even know what horses are? Yes, my tone of voice probably gave them a giant clue, but horses? Really?
I wonder how many idioms we use on a daily basis without a clue to their origins.
In case you’re interested, here’s a list of common idioms we use without questioning or examination:
“Under the weather, spill the beans, sit on the fence, through thick and thin, once in a blue moon, hit the hay, stabbed in the back, kill two birds with one stone, piece of cake, takes two to tango, up in the air, costs an arm and a leg.”
Actually, the phrase, “piece of cake” came from the Royal Air Force in the late 1930’s to allude to an “easy mission.”
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in America, people would stuff burlap sacks with hay to create a comfy bed. Hence, “hit the hay”.
Regarding “spill the beans”, in ancient Greece they used different colored beans for voting. The voting process was supposed to be anonymous. If someone spilled the bean jar they used to cast their votes, everyone would know how they voted.
These are just a few examples of things we take at face value without questioning or examination…not a bad thing…simply an observation.
What makes one old saying a keeper is another question.
As for the origin of “costs an arm and a leg”, I don’t even want to know!