Showing Your True Colors by Valerie J. Patterson

I’m certain we’ve all heard the saying, “She’s showing her true colors“.  And I’m also certain we all know that it means to show one’s true self.  But did you know that this saying originally referred to ships in the heat of battle?  Warships would often fly multiple flags, each a different color, hoping to confuse their enemies.  However, rules of wartime dictated that prior to firing, the ship had to hoist its real country flag, hence showing its true colors.

I was thinking about the phrases and sayings we have grown up with and how each generation–it seems–has their own sayings, but that there are phrases that remain regardless of the passage of time.  I decided to look into the origins of some of the sayings and phrases I have always heard, and I was shocked by some, grossed out by others, and somewhat surprised to realize that I knew more about some than I would have thought.  Not sure what that says, but…here are some sayings and their origins.  Enjoy!

Spill the beans–of course, this means to tell a secret.  In ancient Greece, voting for candidates was conducted by depositing either a white bean (voting yes) or a black bean (voting no) into a container.  The candidate never knew who voted which way nor did they know the outcome until the beans were counted.  Occasionally, a clumsy voter would knock the container over and reveal the votes to the candidate, thus spilling the beans.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed–of course this is often said of a grumpy person.  However, in “old times” the left side of the body and anything dealing with the left side was considered evil.  In order to ward off evil spirits, innkeepers would push the left side of the bed against a wall, giving guests only one option: to wake up on the right side of the bed!  As a left-handed person, I find this idea offensive! (wink)

No spring chicken–refers to someone past their prime, but it actually does refer to old chickens.  New England farmers got more money for chicks born in the spring rather than those born in the wintertime.  When times were lean, they attempted to pass wintertime chicks off as spring chicks and the wise buyer would reply, “That is no spring chicken!”.

Here’s one that surprised me:  Rule of Thumb–this means a benchmark, a go by.  It is said to have originated in England when 17th century judge, Sir Francis Buller ruled that husbands could beat their wives with a stick providing the stick were no wider than his thumb!  [Someone should have beat Sir Buller!]

Go the whole 9 yards–means to give it your best, your all, and try your hardest.  Fighter pilots of WWII were issued a 9-yard ammunition chain.  When a pilot used the entire chain on one target, he was said to have given it the whole 9 yards.

Here’s one that simply grossed me out: Cat got your tongue–obviously this means someone is at a loss for words.  But it actually originated from the practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats!  Yick!!!!

So as not to leave you with that image, here’s one more.  I just found this one very odd:  Butter someone up–we take this to mean flattery, but it’s actually an ancient Indian custom of throwing balls of clarified butter at statues of gods to gain their favor.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt I will ever use the phrase cat got your tongue again!

Until next time, have a great weekend, and may your blessings always be more than you can shake a stick at!!!!

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12 responses to “Showing Your True Colors by Valerie J. Patterson

  1. This is great, Valerie. I’ve used some of these and never knew the origins. I’m with you. No using the cat one again. Blech! But I might be telling my lefty husband about the left side of the bed. LOL. Hope you have an awesome weekend!

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Yeah, that cat one is just awful! I remember as a kid thinking it was a strange saying…but I had no idea just how strange it was!! Does hubby sleep on the left side of the bed? If yes, he might consider just rolling over and over until he gets out on your side in the morning! 😛 And remember, since the left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain, lefties are the only people in their “right mind”. 😛

  2. What a great post to have morning coffee with. Love it. Yep, I’ve used some if not all of the these saying at one time or another. And, I’m with on the tongue thing and adding my YUCK. 🙂

    I’m left handed and always slept on that side until I moved here and then I switched to the R. side. Ummm, didn’t think much of it at the time.

  3. Love these tidbits. I knew some but not the butter up one- AND I knew about cutting out tongues; however, I didn’t know about the cat part. YIKES. Fun post!! Jillian

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Yeah, I don’t think I would feed any cat of mine a tongue…any tongue!! 😛

      Thrown any clarified butter lately, Jillian? I’m thinking maybe just give the compliment instead!

  4. Another yuck about the cat! How interesting to know the origin of these sayings. And I’ve got a couple to add when I write my next post here at the end of the month 🙂 Thanks for this really fascinating post, Valerie. I love to know these sorts of details 🙂

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Me, too, Tricia. It’s interesting to know where some of these sayings come from. Never know when you’ll come across something really weird! 😛

  5. Always enjoy learning where our phrases come from, even the yukky one with the cat. Thank you, Valeries. 🙂

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Yeah, even the yucky ones are sort of interesting. Some of the phrases go back farther than I thought they would have. 😛

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