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So they say: exploring common phrases, their meanings and how they first came to be.

"Brand spanking new," "clear as a bell," "raining cats and dogs" - we all use common sayings from time to time. Even though they don't make much sense when taken literally, we understand what someone means when they say, "strike while the iron is hot" or "I've been saved by the bell!" But what did these sayings really mean when they were first used? How did they come to be so popular? It can't be as different as their meanings today, can they? Well, read on ... you might be surprised.

"Brand spanking new"

Used today to mean something new (and probably shiny), this saying originated from the hospital. Yes, you read that right, the hospital. When babies are born, their lungs aren't big enough to let in oxygen, so they cannot breathe. Babies need to cry to expand their lungs. In order to make this happen, doctors used to spank a baby to make them cry and help them begin to breathe. This was also a way of finding out whether the baby was healthy.

"Clear as a bell"

Now, it's used to mean something that's understood or easy to understand. Back then? Before the time of loudspeakers and electric sirens, church bells were used to alert a village or town to danger, death or a wedding. These church bells were gigantic and their sound carried long distances so that they could be heard from faraway farms. The sound was bud and clear - clear as a bell

"Raining cats and dogs"

This is just plain silly. How can cats and dogs rain from the sky? Okay, they can't rain from the sky, but they can fall off of slippery roofs. Which is exactly where this phrase came from. In Medieval England, animals used to live on the roofs of houses. When it rained, as was (and still is) common in England, the roofs would become slippery and the animals would fall onto the street below. During heavy storms, it would seem as if the animals were raining from the sky.

"Saved by the bell"

No, not the television show, this saying is a lot freakier than that! This phrase, often used in school settings where students are "saved" from answering difficult questions by the school bell, originated in England. Decades and decades ago in England, there was an actual fear of being buried alive. Maybe because medicine wasn't as advanced as it is today so it was difficult to tell if someone was really gone forever? To make sure someone who was buried alive could be saved, a little bell was attached to the person's hand. This way, if they woke up underground, the grave keepers would hear the bell and save them. Scary!

"Pulling someone's leg

Now, it's used to talk about making fun of someone or playfully misleading him or her. But this saying had a more sinister origin. In older days, pulling someone's leg was an efficient way to rob them. One person would trip the victim (or "pull their leg") while the other would steal their money. Frightening, but at least the meaning is more playful now.

"Cats have nine lives"

People only get one life, so why do cats get nine? While it's true that cats tend to land on their feet and are extremely agile, this saying may come from ancient Egypt where cats were considered sacred. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the cat represented the unity between Mother, Father and Son, and they multiplied each by three, ending up at nine lives. Who would've guessed? So this is more of a myth than a literal meaning behind the phrase, but interesting nonetheless.

"Eat humble pie"

Yum. Pie. But this one isn't as appealing as you might think. First it might help to learn the meaning of "humble." It has a few different meanings but the one that makes the most sense for this common saying is: to be low in rank, importance or status. So, way back when, servants used to prepare their masters' food with the best ingredients. The head of each household and their families would eat meat pies with only the best cuts of meat. This meant that the servants (or those who were more humble and less important) were left to fill theft pies with whatever was leftover from the animal, like the inner organs. Ick! This concoction was therefore called 'humble pie'. Feeling hungry? I didn't think so. Today, when someone says they've eaten "humble pie" it means that they've been taken down a notch or reminded that they're not as important as they once thought.

"As mad as a hatters"

The Mad Hatter. Have you heard of him, from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonder/and? Sure you have, but where did this name and the saying that came before it, come from? Hats used to be made by hand (by "hatters") using a substance called mercury, which is known to be poisonous to humans now. Unfortunately, hatters didn't used to know that mercury was poisonous. They would come into contact with ft frequently and therefore it would drive them, literally, mad!

"Goodnight sleep tight!"

You might think this comes from being tucked in snuggly and having a tight cacoon of blankets all around you. But there's more to it than that! Way back when, before the kind of mattress technology and materials we have now, mattresses would loosen over the course of the day, often becoming very uncomfortable by night time. In order to keep the beds together and comfortable, ropes were used to secure the mattresses to the bed frame and these ropes were tightened every night before bed. Who knew 'sleeping tight' actually meant sleeping tight!


Some people believe that frogs have actually rained from the sky before? Some believe this to be. a myth and others think it was an actual meteorological phenomenon causing frogs to literally fall from above. What do you think? Could it have ever rained frogs?
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Author:Zowmi, Aniqah
Publication:Kidsworld Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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