It’s raining cats and dogs clichés in this column
By John Toth / Editor and Publisher
At the drop of a hat, I got on my laptop and started to write my next column. Now where is that hat I dropped?
The dog ate it. I caught him red-handed.
Since I was feeling so inquisitive, I started looking up how these cliches originated. There are too many of them, so I’m just scratching the surface.
AT THE DROP OF A HAT: In the 19th century, it was occasionally the practice in the United States to signal the start of a fight or a race by dropping a hat or sweeping it downward while holding it in the hand.
MAD AS A HATTER: In 17th century France, poisoning occurred among hat makers who used mercury for the hat felt. The “Mad Hatter Disease” was marked by shyness, irritability, and tremors that would make the person appear “mad.”
BUTTER UP SOMEONE: This was a customary religious act in ancient India. The devout would throw butter balls at the statues of their gods to seek favor and forgiveness.
CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE? The English Navy used to use a whip called “Cat-o’-nine-tails” for flogging. The pain was so severe that it caused the victim to stay quiet for a long time. Another possible source could be from ancient Egypt, where liars’ and blasphemers’ tongues were cut out and fed to the cats.
BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE: This refers to hunting dogs that may have chased their prey up a tree. The dogs bark, assuming that the prey is still in the tree, when the prey is no longer there.
TURN A BLIND EYE: The British Naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, had one blind eye. Once when the British forces signaled for him to stop attacking a fleet of Danish ships, he held up a telescope to his blind eye and said, “I do not see the signal.” He attacked, nevertheless, and was victorious.
BURY THE HATCHET: This one dates back to the early times in North America when the Puritans were at conflict with the Native Americans. When negotiating peace, the Native Americans would bury all their hatchets, knives, clubs, and tomahawks. Weapons literally were buried and made inaccessible.
CAUGHT RED-HANDED: This originates from an old English law that ordered any person to be punished for butchering an animal that wasn’t his own. The only way the person could be convicted is if he was caught with the animal’s blood still on his hands.
DON’T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER: In the early 1500s, people only bathed once a year. Not only that, but they also bathed in the same water without changing it! The adult males would bathe first, then the females, leaving the children and babies to go last. By the time the babies got in, the water was clouded with filth. The poor mothers had to take extra care that their babies were not thrown out with the bathwater.
GIVE A COLD SHOULDER: In medieval England, it was customary to give a guest a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of mutton, pork, or beef chop when the host felt it was time for the guest to leave. This was a polite way to communicate, “You may leave, now.”
GO THE WHOLE NINE YARDS: During World War II, the fighter pilots were equipped with nine yards of ammunition. When they ran out, it meant that they had tried their best at fighting off the target with the entirety of their ammunition.
LET ONE’S HAIR DOWN: In public, the aristocratic women of medieval times were obliged to appear in elegant hairdos that were usually pulled up. The only time they would “let their hair down” was when they came home and relaxed.
RUB THE WRONG WAY: Early Americans, during the colonial times, would ask their servants to rub their oak floorboards “the right way”.
The wrong way (not wiping them with dry fabric after wet fabric) would cause streaks to form and ruin it, leaving the homeowner annoyed. Alternatively, it could have derived from rubbing a cat’s fur the “wrong way,” which annoys them.
That’s all I have for now. It took a while to look these up on the internet machine, and I’m pooped (meaning obvious, and I am scared to look up its origin).