Idiomatic Expressions and their Origin

Have you ever come across sayings people have said to you or you just happen to pass by and inadvertently heard them saying something that sounds really off; that some of them seem difficult to pull off or just sound really wrong? Then most likely the things that you have heard are called idiomatic expressions. What are idiomatic expressions? Idiomatic expressions are basically an informal type of English sayings that have entirely different meanings than what the literal understanding of the words would be under normal circumstances. You may also see hyperbole expressions.

Idiomatic expressions are not just limited to one language as every other language actually has one thought they could be difficult to understand, less one happens to be proficient enough in that particular language. An idiom also happens to influenced by the culture from where it came from. So being familiar with a culture does help in trying to understand the meaning behind them, and they are not all too difficult to understand is; quite simple as to what most people would normally believe them to be. So for this article, we listed down about 10 idiomatic expressions and explained each one of them for your convenience.

At the drop of a hat

What this idiomatic expression means is that people did or will do things instantly and without hesitation. The term originated most likely in the 19th century where 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. The quick response to the signal found its way into the language for any action that begins quickly without much need for prompting.

Back to the Drawing Board

This means that they have just failed and must start all over again from square one. The saying is attributed to an American artist named Peter Arno, who published his cartoons in the New Yorker. In a comic strip from 1941, we see a man in a fancy suit, carrying a bunch of rolled up papers assumed to be mechanical drawings of an aircraft, walking away from a crashed plane. In the bubble above his head, we read “Well, back to the drawing board.”

Once in a blue moon

This idiom means that something is or has happened but it is something that happens very rarely. One factor that could attribute to the origin of this idiom is that very occasionally, the moon actually does appear to be blue. This sometimes occurs after a volcanic eruption. Dust particles in the atmosphere are normally of a certain size that is enough to diffract blue light, making the moon appear reddish at sunset. Larger volcanic dust particles diffract red light, making the moon appear bluish.

Piece of Cake

This means something that can be done very easily. The origin of this would be that there was a tradition in the US slavery states where slaves would circle around a cake at a gathering. The most “graceful” pair would win the cake in the middle. From this, the term “cakewalk” and “piece of cake” came into being, both meaning that something was easy to accomplish.

See eye to eye

This means to view something in the same capacity as that of others. The origin of this is quite old and comes from the bible. In Isaiah 52:8, we read “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.”

Let the cat out of the bag

The meaning of this would be to let out secrets that were not meant to be disclosed. The first recorded use of this phrase comes from a book review in a 1760 edition of London Magazine. The reviewer complains that, “We could have wished that the author had not let the cat out of the bag.”

In the heat of the moment

The idiom means that you have said or done something because you were either angry or excited. The idiom became popular in the late 20th century and its origin is unknown.

Kill two birds with one stone

This idiom means that you can accomplish two things through one means. A possible origin story for this would be in the Greek Mythology tale of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus is held captive by King Minos on Crete in a high tower. All he is able to see are high walls around him and large birds overhead awaiting his and his son, Icarus’ demise. Daedalus devises a plan to throw stones at the birds in the hope of fashioning artificial wings to enable the pair to fly home. He finds, with his stone through a clever throwing motion, that he is able to strike one bird with the ricochet hitting a second bird, thus killing two birds with one stone. The rest is history.

It takes two to tango

This means that in order to do something, two people are required to execute it. The origin story for this comes in the form of a song, Takes Two to Tango, which was written and composed in 1952 by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. The lyrics and melody were popularized by singer Pearl Bailey’s 1952 recording. The phrase became famous when Ronald Reagan used it when he was talking about the Russian-American relations during a 1982 presidential news conference. Since then, the phrase was used a lot by the press and has now become a saying.

Every cloud has a silver lining

The meaning of this idiom is that there will always be something that will come out of every misfortune that has befallen. The origin of the idiom is most likely traceable to the year 1634 when John Milton Penned his masque Comus. There is a quote within it that says “Was I deceived or did a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night?”

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