We use slang and quirky so often in our daily lives that we hardly ever stop to learn about where certain language comes from.
Well, today’s your lucky day! Take a look at these 5 common sayings we use here in America, and find out where they come from.
1. “My neck of the woods”
This phrase has two possible origin stories. The first is that way back in the 16th century, English speakers used the word “neck” to describe all kinds of narrow or constricted things. Examples include the narrow neck of a bottle or an inlet of water. So the term possibly originates there.
Author Bill Bryson, on the other hand, believes the phrase comes from the Algonquin word “niack”, which means a corner or a point. If that is the origin of “my neck of the woods,” it makes the phrase a true Americanism.
2. “Stomping ground”
Another one you hear all the time. Hey, I even use it myself from time to time. The term originally started in British English around 1820 as “stamping ground” with an “a”. It referred to places where animals slept at night where vegetation was trampled down.
In the 1850s the term became “stomping ground” in America. Both terms are still used, FYI.
3. “Shoot the breeze”
We all do this, some of us more than others. Just chit chat and talk about nothing in particular with a friend. The term originates in the American West, with its massive, wide open spaces. What better way to pass time than to shoot at, well…nothing. Passing the time by shooting into the air and making small talk eventually came to mean the same thing.
4. Riding shotgun
“Shotgun!” How many times have you yelled that on the way to a car with your friends and family?
This is another phrase that dates to the Old West. When stagecoaches crossed miles and miles of open land, danger lurked around every corner. The man who sat next to the stagecoach driver was known as the express messenger. That person was always armed with – you guessed it – a shotgun to protect the coach and its valuables/people.
5. Spill the beans
When a person (hopefully not you) divulges sensitive information or tells a secret, they spill the beans. There are two possible theories for the explanation of this term.
The first states that Ancient Greek societies used different colored beans to cast votes and that all the beans were spilled out to be counted after voting was complete.
The second (and the one that is generally more accepted) comes from a book that describes a vote that took place in Maine all the way back in 1650. Beans and corn were used to vote “yes” or “no”. Beans symbolized a “yes” vote.
Language is so fascinating! What are some other aphorisms that you’d like to learn about?