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Thursday, April 17, 2014

36 Unexpected Origins Of Everyday British Phrases

Etymology, my dear Watson.

Meaning back to the beginning, the phrase originated in the 1930s when the first radio broadcasts of football matches were made by the BBC.

To help listeners keep track of the game, The Radio Times devised a numbered grid system which they published in the magazine, enabling commentators to indicate to listeners exactly where the ball was on the pitch.

"Square One" was the goalkeeper’s area, and whenever the ball was passed back to him, play was referred to as being ‘back to square one’.

BrAt82 / Shutterstock

Meaning to carry out a task against the doer’s wishes, or getting on with something that ‘has to be done’, this phrase has its origins in the British Empire during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Bullets of the time used grease made of either cow or pork fat to hold the missile in the cartridge. Before they could be fired, the two parts had to be bitten apart and the base filled with gunpowder.

In times of battle, low-ranking Hindu soldiers - to whom cows are sacred animals - were often tasked with separating the cartridges, forcing them, against their wishes, to ‘bite the bullet’.

A.G.A / Shutterstock

Meaning to demand money by threats, usually involving violence or the exposing of secrets, the phrase originated in the Scottish Highlands in the 1600s.

The ‘mail’ in blackmail is from the old Scottish word for rent, usually spelled either ‘maill’ or ‘male’. In those days rent was paid in silver coins - known as ‘white money’ or 'white maill'.

When Highland clan chiefs began a protection racket, threatening farmers with violence if they didn’t pay, this additional rent became known as ‘black money’. As such ‘blackmaill’ was used to describe the practice of obtaining money by threat of violence.

During the 1900s, when criminals first began demanding money not to divulge a person's secrets, the word ‘blackmail’ was adopted to describe this.

Taylor Leopold / Via

Often used as a threat, "there will be Dickens to pay" is not actually related to 19th-century author Charles Dickens, as popular belief would have it.

As long ago as the 16th century the word ‘Devil’ was, in fact, ‘Devilkin’ and having ‘the devilkin to pay’ meant a passage straight to Hell for one’s crimes.

Back then, Devilkin was pronounced ‘Dickens’, as evidenced by the line ‘I cannot tell what the Dickens his name was’, from The Merry Wives Of Windsor by one William Shakespeare, written in 1601 – more than 200 years before Charles Dickens was born.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun by William Blake

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