Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Let sleeping dogs lie..."

I love catch phrases and it's fun to find where they originated.  “Let sleeping dogs lie” aptly describes this picture. It is a phrase believed to have been originated by Chaucer around 1380 in Troilus and Criseyde, 'It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake'. It means that one shouldn't stir up a potentially difficult situation when it's best left alone

Then there’s “it’s a piece of cake” meaning that it would be an easy task...but, where did that saying originate? I tried to find the answer but there were many conflicting opinions. It was often paired with “easy as pie” and I was amused to read that many women said it must have been coined by a male since “there’s nothing easy about making a pie...or a cake, for that matter.”

I was reminded of Dorothy Parker, (1893-1967), the controversial American writer who was best known for her caustic wit. While playing a word game with some friends she was challenged to use the word HORTICULTURE in a sentence. She came up with “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” which of course is a take-off from the well known caption “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”.

Then there is our plain-speaking US President Harry S Truman.

He is credited with two phrases that have stood the test of time (since 1949). They are: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” which he often would say to his staff, and: “The buck stops here.” He did not originate the later but had a sign to that effect on his desk for his stint as President so he is usually thought to have coined it.

And, of course, when our carefully prepared plans go wrong we are quick to shrug our shoulders and say: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray”. This can be traced directly to a Robert Burns’ poem entitled “To A Mouse, 1786”. He had upturned a mouse’s nest while plowing a field and the poem is his apology to the mouse !

Well, I could go on forever but they say that “brevity is the soul of wit” (Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1602) so I’ll call it quits. Besides which “two heads are better than one” (proverb first recorded in John Heywood's A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546) so I’ll be waiting “with bated breath”, (1250–1300; Middle English, aphetic variant of ABATE) to see what you guys come up with !!



Blogger kenju said...

I love knowing the origins of catch phrases and silly sayings. I used to own a book on the subject called "A Hog on Ice." I bet you would enjoy that!

5:40 PM  
Blogger Syd said...

Here are a few that I heard from my family growing up:

"She could talk the legs off an iron pot"
"He is as fat as a grampas"
"Strike while the iron is hot"

I have no idea whether these were originals or just passed along in the family. They struck me as funny when I was a kid.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Arkansas Patti said...

I love origins of our everyday sayings.
I totally cracked up at "horticulture."

4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many sayings are from the Bible and the classical Greeks and Romans. How strange that the saying "history repeats itself" is both wrong and often attributed to the wrong person. Dianne

12:18 PM  
Blogger troutbirder said...

What fun. As a former basketball coach I always like "There's no I in TEAM."

2:43 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Fun post. When I have looked up origins in the past, I have also read various possibilities. But I do have a vague recollection of reading the poem about the " tim'rous beastie" in school. Of course, they would likely analyze rap lyrics now. Not that it's wrong to do so.

12:57 PM  

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