We all have favourite sayings and similes we use. Sometimes there’s just no better way to describe a situation than with an analogy, and I know I use “my two cents” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” a lot. But if you think about some of our sayings, quite a few don’t make much sense. Often the reason is that the meanings are archaic and you need to know their origins to understand them. So here are a few of the stranger ones demystified.
5) It’s raining cats and dogs
When has it ever rained cats and dogs? Obviously never, so its literal meaning makes little sense. But its origin is hard to pin down as well. The most likely origin is that in London in the 17th century, heavy rain used to fill the streets and carry along dead animals and people created the analogy over time.
4) A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
I think this is one of the best sounding proverbs and its meaning is fairly obvious: that it is better to accept a small advantage and what you have now than to risk everything in search of more. The bush part often trips people up, but it dates back to medieval times when a falcon might rest on your hand, the “two in the bush” being prey.
3) Make no bones about it
Make no bones about it is fairly odd if you think about it. What do bones have to do with stating something without hesitation or objection? But its origin is in an earlier phrase: “to find bones in”, particularly in a meal or soup. To find no bones meant you had no problems; the saying likely evolved from that.
2) There’s more than one way to skin a cat
Some of these sayings don’t seem to like cats much. This one means that there are several ways to do or achieve something, and the most likely origin is that the cat originally referred to a catfish (which has a tough skin) and the saying was shortened over time. It’s also possible that it’s a variation of the expression “to skin the cat”, which was a child’s gymnastic trick, the “more than one way” being the different ways of performing the trick.
1) As straight as a die
I’ve always found as straight as a die very strange, in that its literal meaning is to be honest and true; how does that relate to a die being straight, something which it obviously isn’t? The simile actually dates back to an earlier saying, “make this borde as smoothe as dyce”. If you think of dice being smooth and “true” in casting them, then it makes more sense.