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Where did that come from? Volume #5

Got quesstions?  We've got answers!
Got quesstions? We've got answers!
Photo courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom/

There are words and phrases we use every day; yet we never stop to think about their origins. Often, they have no relationship to the subject at hand. Do you ever wonder where they come from?

A good example with an interesting background is the phrase, “beat (or beating) around the bush.” It means not to approach something directly.

Hundreds of years ago, most cultures had a specific ritual for hunting. Wealthy participants hired men to enter the natural habitats of the prey. They beat nearby branches and banged on things to make such a commotion, the animals got scared and ran towards them.

However, with a dangerous prey (i.e. wild boar), this practice was changed. Instead of entering the habitat, the hired workers circled it. Then they made a huge ruckus. It produced the same outcome. That created the term, “beating around the bush,” which became circumventing the point.

The phrase, “a pig in a poke” is one that’s widely known and used (especially in the South.) It means buying something that turns out to be worthless. Where did this start?

Back in the days when farmers had to take a pig to market to sell it, they physically carried it. To accomplish this, they tied the animal inside a thick, sturdy bag attached to a stick. This conveyance method was called a poke.

When the farmer got to market, if the pig escaped the poke, it ran away. Too often, it was irretrievable. Therefore, buyers were not permitted to see the pig before purchasing it.

Unfortunately (then and now), not all pigs (or other items) sellers were/are honorable. Consequently, the poke often contained a defective animal or heavy rocks. That’s why buying a pig in a poke means someone got swindled.

“The whole nine yards,” as used today, has nothing to do with football. Its origins have conflicting start dates yet the same meaning.

One says it began during World War I. The best machine gun (a Vickers), had the capacity to fire a nine-yard magazine belt. To give them “the whole nine yards” meant the entire belt was used on the enemy.

The other says its origin comes from WWII and refers to airplane gunners. Their magazines were also nine yards long.

These types of idioms are used every day. Because we’ve personalized them, they make conversations much more interesting, colorful, and fun.

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