I find it amazing that there are sayings that we still use today that began as long ago as the 1600’s. And while many of us use these common sayings, not a lot of us know how they came about. Some of them are very bizarre but do make sense once you understand their origin. Have fun learning a little something new.
Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
This saying has rather disgusting origins. Before indoor plumbing, people bathed in tubs. As it goes, a family would bathe once a week. A large tub was filled with hot water. Men in the house took the first bath in clean water. Women were next in line. At this point, the water was tepid and dirty. Children were last to take a bath in the cold tub. At that point, the water was so black from filth that it was literally possible to lose a baby in the water!
The origin of this saying was also a bit crude. Back in the old days, urine was used for tanning animal hides. With no indoor plumbing. families would pee in one pot throughout the day. At the end of the day, when the pot was full, it was taken to the local tannery and sold for extra money. It was considered a low brow thing to sell a pot of piss and the well to do referred to them “piss poor.” As well, those who didn’t even own a pot to urinate in were considered “too poor to have a pot to piss in,” which is a similar saying still used today.
Skeletons in the Closet
It was once common practice for doctors to illegally possess a human skeleton for teaching purposes. These skeletons were stored in a closet or cleverly hidden in the walls of the doctor’s house. The skeletons were often times the remains of an unwanted infant. They were almost always obtained through nefarious means.
Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey
Sailing warships in the 16th – 18th century used metal triangles called “monkeys” to store iron cannon balls. When it became extremely cold, the metal would contract, thus causing the balls to fall off them.
Don’t Hold a Candle To
This saying is actually an idiom. If you say that one person can’t hold a candle to another, you mean that the first person is not as good as the second. This comes from th e1600’s when apprentices were often required to hold the candle while more experienced workers worked into the night. If an apprentice couldn’t even hold the candle steadily for those long stretches of time, they were said to not be able to hold a candle to another apprentice who could. It was said often enough that it began to become a common way to describe someone who was not an apprentive at all.
Giving Someone a Cold Shoulder
If someone ever had in-laws stay too long, they may learn something from this saying! When houseguests back in the day overstayed their welcome, they were given the worst part of the animal to eat. And, the meat was not warmed; it was cold. (The shoulder of the animal was usually considered the worst part of the animal). It was a passive-aggressive way to let guests know that it was time to move along.