The Meaning Behind Idioms

By: Cheryl

By: Ashley Tulio, Communications Specialist

Growing up I remember having a book on idioms. My brain used to be just filled with different idioms, and their meanings and history. I actually believe that everyone uses idioms more often than we think. This blog will explore what idioms are and some common ones frequently used!

Let’s begin with the definition of idioms. An idiom is a word or phrase in which the figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning of the grouping of words. In a way, expressions are expressions that describe a particular situation creatively. Each idiom has its own historical meaning and can sometimes reflect a specific cultural tradition. Idioms are valuable as they help us express things with just a few words. Moreover, they add a more positive and lighter tone to conversations.

Feeling under the weather

This idiom is typically used when people feel sick or ill. The origin of this is believed to come from when a sailor would feel sick, they would go below the front part of the boat to protect themselves from adverse conditions. Sailors would literally be under the bad weather that could further make their condition worse. Thus sailors who were sick were described as “under the weather.”

Beating around the bush

The idiom is usually used when someone is trying to tell a story. However, it may seem as if they are avoiding the main point or avoiding telling something. The person listening to the story wants to know what the main point is, so they say, “Stop beating around the bush!” This originated in response to a hunting game in Britain. When people were hunting birds, individuals would beat bushes to draw out the birds before getting to the main point, which was the actual capture of the birds.

Spill the beans

This idiom is used when someone wants someone to leak or tell them some secret information. The history behind this one is fun because it is most likely derived from an ancient Greek voting process involving beans. People would vote by placing one of two coloured beans in a vase, and if someone spilled the beans, the secret results of the election would be revealed beforehand.

Sleep tight

Before someone goes bed, you might catch yourself saying, “Good night! Sleep tight!” Wishing someone to sleep tight really means you hope they sleep well. The history behind this idiom dates back to when people would sleep on mattresses supported by ropes. Telling someone to sleep tight really meant that you hoped that the ropes were pulled tight to have a well-supported bed for them overnight.

It’s raining cats and dogs!

This idiom actually has a few different stories of where it originated from. The most common one though, says that homes had thatched roofs in which domestic cats and dogs would go under to hide years ago. However, during heavy rain, the animals would either be washed out of the thatch or abandon the hiding for shelter, making it seem like it was raining cats and dogs.

As you can see, there are a lot of idioms that we use on a daily basis, without even thinking about the actual idiom itself. There are so many more, such as “break a leg”, “piece of cake”, “kill two birds with one stone”, and “call it a day”. Idioms are a fun way to express various meanings, and they make great memes!

To learn more about origin stories within languages, please see some of our other blogs:

Different Types of Dialects

Swearing in a Language without Curse Words

References:

https://owlcation.com/humanities/Common-Idioms-and-Phrases-Meanings-and-Origins

https://www.britannica.com/list/7-everyday-english-idioms-and-where-they-come-from

https://www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/13-english-expressions-with-surprisingly-funny-origins-including-spill-beans.html