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  • March 30, 2015, 12:27:56 AM

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Author Topic: How sayings came about.  (Read 558 times)

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Phoebelion

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How sayings came about.
« on: March 27, 2015, 04:28:13 PM »
I find this topic fascinating.

Mad as a hatter.

Read someplace that back in the days of beaver top hats,  arsenic was used to smooth down the beaver fur.  The hatters would wet their fingers with arsenic and for some reason lick their fingers.  They would go "mad" from the arsenic.

 


Harriet Jones

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2015, 04:41:50 PM »
I find this topic fascinating.

Mad as a hatter.

Read someplace that back in the days of beaver top hats,  arsenic was used to smooth down the beaver fur.  The hatters would wet their fingers with arsenic and for some reason lick their fingers.  They would go "mad" from the arsenic.

 

Mercury, not arsenic.  Arsenic would just kill you, I believe

Ms_Cellany

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2015, 05:07:23 PM »
"The exception that proves the rule."

Comes from an archaic meaning of "prove" - it meant "test" (we still see this in "proving grounds," "proofing yeast," etc.)

The exception tests a rule.

Also related: "The proof (test) of a pudding is in the eating."
It is the policy of the United States Navy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard its vessels.

Phoebelion

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2015, 07:02:31 PM »
Harriet, you are absolutely correct.  I blame the mistake on the old brain. 

lynnaford

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2015, 08:03:54 PM »
Phoebelion - thank you for starting this.  Here is one.
make the yellow bird sing, or squeeze the canary.  To me it means running a yellow light instead of stopping.  I can not for the life of me find anyone else who knows these sayings.  What say y'all?   :)

Phoebelion

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2015, 08:39:28 PM »


I've never heard that one.

Harps and Hot Tea

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2015, 10:26:03 PM »
"Upper crust"

Comes from when bread ovens were heated with wood fires that were raked out just moments before bread dough was tossed in and the door closed and sealed to maintain the heat. This had to be done too fast to clean the oven floor properly, and there weren't modern baking pans, so the bottom of the bread would get ash on it. Thus in large establishments with multiple layers of society living in them (castles, manors, large farms etc.) the upper eschelons would receive the upper, clean part of the bread, while the lower sorts got the portion that had been in contact with the oven floor. If you got to eat the upper crust, you were probably well off.


cabbageweevil

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2015, 11:43:53 AM »
I’ve always liked the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  See it as generally signifying:  frantically and probably unsuccessfully, trying to make something work (likely, but not invariably, in the sphere of finances) by a succession of makeshift short-term fixes.

Trying to look into the origin of the phrase, would seem to deliver an answer of its coming basically from “Christendom” – the Apostles Peter, and Paul, being referenced – but beyond that, “who knows?” – there are assorted possible explanations.  One, looks to a suggested situation in England before the Protestant Reformation, wherein church taxes were due both to St. Peter’s church / cathedral in Rome, and St. Paul’s ditto in London:  the saying, referring to neglecting the Peter tax due to Rome, in order to have money to pay the Paul tax nearer to home.  Another traces the expression to an episode in the mid-16th century, after England’s initial break with Rome, in which the abbey church of St. Peter at Westminster was briefly raised to cathedral status, then once again demoted, with many of its estates appropriated to fund repairs to St. Paul’s Cathedral,  London –  causing commentators at the time, to object to the inappropriateness of thus robbing “Peter” for “Paul” ‘s benefit.

Yet others are of the opinion that the expression has nothing to do with any particular historical situation, but is just a homely saying thought up at a time when in England, Catholic Christianity was universal;  arbitrarily picking on a well-known “duo” of names from the New Testament:  in a later era, an expression meaning the same, might have been – say – “robbing Sheldon to pay Leonard”.  It seems basically, that the expression might have come from anywhere.  Would be interesting to know if it exists in other languages of the Christian world, citing the names of Peter and Paul...?


artk2002

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2015, 03:22:29 PM »
I find this topic fascinating.

Mad as a hatter.

Read someplace that back in the days of beaver top hats,  arsenic was used to smooth down the beaver fur.  The hatters would wet their fingers with arsenic and for some reason lick their fingers.  They would go "mad" from the arsenic.

Mercury was used in the making of felt. Heavy metal poisoning can produce effects that look like insanity.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

cabbageweevil

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #9 on: Yesterday at 05:48:06 AM »
More re "robbing Peter to pay Paul":  I learn elsewhere, that the saying or close equivalents, exist in at least a couple of other languages.  On the European continent, when it's about saints / apostles, clothing seems to be referenced, rather than "stealing someone's stuff": in France, it's "undressing Paul to dress Peter (Pierre)" -- or Jacques, or Jean -- all apostles, anyway.  The Spanish counterpart means "undressing one saint to dress another".  Also, Spanish has the straightforward saying meaning "taking from person X in order to give to person Y" -- with the names of X and Y linked, by convention, in some way.  Sometimes thus in Spanish, it's Peter and Paul (Pedro / Pablo); or it could be -- English equivalents -- say Bill / Ben, or Popeye / Bluto, or pretty well any known name-pair that you please.

cabbageweevil

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Re: How sayings came about.
« Reply #10 on: Yesterday at 12:48:59 PM »
Another which I'm fond of, is "Don't spoil the [whatever] for a ha'porth of tar".  Essential meaning, "don't risk the failure of a large project by trying to economise on trivial things". The "ha'porth": in the days of pre-decimal British currency, the half-penny coin was universally pronounced as "ha'penny" [ approx. hay-pnee] -- "half-penny-worth" was similarly rendered "ha'porth" [hay-puhth].

Even centuries ago, when the saying originated, a half-penny was a fairly insignificant amount of money unless one was at the rock-bottom poorest level of society.  There are, however, two rival schools of thought as to what is at risk of being spoilt.  It seems that the version most frequently heard is, "don't spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar".  This, from wooden ships being made watertight by caulking, via stuffing the cracks between the planks of the hull with fibrous material, then painting-over same with hot tar.  Obviously, foolish to risk a ship's getting into difficulties, by skimping on a small bit of this tar-applying.

The rival, on the whole less-favoured, version: is that the operative word is not "ship", but "sheep".  (English-language dialect over time and place has fetched up many instances of either pronunciation being used for the water-transport vessel, and the animal.) In the days of less-sophisticated veterinary science, a sore or wound on a sheep's body had hot tar painted over it, to prevent flies from getting at and infecting the spot (with potential result to the farmer, an ailing or possibly dead sheep).  "Ship" and "sheep" proponents happily dispute and "logicise" at length, over whose favoured meaning is the more sense-making and likely -- I tend to feel that the best answer is probably, "who knows?".