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Where did that come from? Volume #6

Answers to questions
Phjoto from Michelle Meiklejohn/

Idioms and colloquialisms pepper our speech to make conversations more lively and interesting. We use them every day. Yet, have you ever wondered where they come from?

“Mind your Ps and Qs” is a popular, world-wide colloquialism. Its roots come from England. When the British visited their pubs, they drank ale (and still do) in pints and quarts. If a patron got too rowdy, the innkeeper yelled at him to mind his own pints and quarts and settle down. Later, this was shortened to use the letters of the alphabet instead of the words, and a new slogan was created.

Another widely used colloquialism, “wet your whistle,” also has origins in England. Additionally, it too relates to pub patrons. Many years ago, almost all taverns had their frequent customers. These regulars had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic mugs. To order a refill, the customer blew the whistle to get service. That’s what this phrase refers to and how it originated.

There are two popular expressions that relate to beans. The first one is to “know beans.”

It came from an old riddle frequently asked in rural country stores. The answer to, “How many blue beans does it take to make seven white beans?” identified whether the person knew anything about what was common knowledge. The correct answer was seven because almost all beans are white once their colorful outside skins are removed.

“To spill the beans” came from ancient Greek voting methods for electing new members into organizations. Different colored beans designated their choices. They dropped a white one into an opaque container for a preferred candidate. They cast a black or brown one in the same vessel for those non-preferred.

In order to maintain secrecy, voters cupped their hands around the bean they were casting. That way, only the officials knew the number of white to dark bean ratio.

Occasionally, a clumsy voter knocked over the jar revealing all the beans. That’s how “to spill the beans” became synonymous with divulging hidden secrets or telling the truth.

Colorful language is an art. It defines how well we communicate and how interesting we are. Develop your skills using these and other idioms and colloquialisms to make your conversations fascinating and stimulating. Tell others where they came from and watch listeners gravitate towards you.

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