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A Few Idiom Origins

A lot of our common sayings have origins that have little or nothing to do with the way we use them today. But those origins are interesting and even entertaining. For example:

1. “God willing and the creeks don’t rise”. This comes from Benjamin Hawkins, an American Indian diplomat, who was called back to Washington. His reference to creeks was not to bodies of water but to the Creek Indian tribe. In other words, I’ll be there if God permits and the Indians behave themselves.

2. “Mind your own beeswax” comes from the 18th century custom of women spreading bee’s wax over their facial skin to cover pockmarks caused by acne. If one woman stared too much at another she was told to mind her own beeswax.

3 “Crack a smile” comes from the same custom. If a woman with a lot of beeswax on her face smiled too much, it would crack.

4. “Losing face” also is related to beeswax. If a woman with beeswax on her face sat too close to the fireplace it would begin to melt and she would lose some of her face.

5. “Minding your p’s and q’s.” At local taverns people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid’s job was to pay close attention to who drank what and so she had to mind the p’s and q’s.

6. “It’ll cost you an arm and a leg”. Prices charged by painters and sculptors depended upon how many limbs were to be shown because limbs were harder to create.

7. “Chairman” or “Chairman of the Board”: In the late 1700”s many houses had only one large room and one chair. A long wide board folded down from the wall and was used for dining. The head of the household sat in the chair and everyone else on the floor. If a male guest was invited to dinner, he would be invited to sit in the chair as the place of honor and hence became for the evening the chairman or the chairman of the board.

In a hundred years I wonder what customs we have today will be the source of figures of speech that will have nothing to do with the original custom.


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