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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Origin Of Idioms For Writers




You ever hear these expressions: cost an arm and a leg; long in the tooth; three sheets to the wind; wear your heart on your sleeve?

Sure you did.  Ever wonder their origins?

Wonder no more.  The Illustrated Histories of Everyday Expressions by James McGuire, reveals the stories behind some of the most popular idioms of the English language.

Here are a few of my favorites explained:

Riding Shotgun
This refers to someone calling dibs on sitting upfront in a car’s passenger seat.  It stems from the Wild West days when travel was dangerous.  Robberies took place on the highway often.  So, to defend against crime, coach drivers would hire someone to sit next to them, armed with a shotgun.

Let The Cat Out Of The Bag
This indicates a secret was carelessly revealed.  It comes from 1700s Europe when street vendors sold baby pigs in burlap sacks.  Some dishonest salesmen would substitute a cat for the more valuable pig.”  When one of these cats managed to wriggle free – letting the cat out of the bag - the deceit was revealed,” writes McGuire.

Pull Someone’s Leg
Joke around or play a prank.  Back in 1800s England, street children turned to pick pocketing to survive poverty.  They worked in tandem.  One kid pulls on your pant leg to distract you, while another grabbed a wallet, watch, or jewelry.  The confused victim didn’t even know which kid stole from him or her.

Paying Through The Nose
No one wants to pay an excessive amount for something, right?  Back in the day of the Vikings after they conquered a village, they demanded citizens pay taxes to them.  If someone didn’t pay, their nose was slit as punishment.  Around the same time, the Danish levied a tax against the just-conquered Irish and if one failed to pay, their nose was busted open.

Not only does the book deliver plausible explanations for phrases we’ve all uttered, it reminds us of these very idioms that can be used in our writings.  Will you turn a blind eye to what I’m saying?  Do I rub you the wrong way or am I barking up the wrong tree?

My Favorite:  Heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.  This means to receive irrefutable information from a reliable source.  Origin?  In the past, horse traders often lied about a horse’s age to increase its value.  But savvy buyers know that one can tell the age of a horse by looking at its teeth. Their length  tells all.

These idioms long outlive their original meaning because new circumstances arose to keep them relevant and applicable.  The fact that these terms survived for centuries shows they express a truth that rings true through the generations.  This book helps you to spot red herrings, know the ropes, bring home the bacon, and avoid burying your head in the sand.

“Always be reading.  Go to the library.  There’s magic in being surrounded by books.  Get lost in the stacks.  Read bibliographies.  It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.  Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away.  Nothing is more important than an unread library.”
--Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

“But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide.  A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.  That is my belief.”
--Franz Kafka

“Literature duplicates the experience of living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you temporarily forget you have one of your own.  That is why you read it, and might even sit up in bed till early dawn, throwing your whole tomorrow out of whack, simply to find out what happens to some people who, you know perfectly well, are made up.”
--Barbara Kingsolver

“People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics.  The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.”
--G.K. Chesterton

“We read novels because we want to see the world through other experiences, other beings, other eyes, other cultures.”
--Orhan Pamuk


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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