Cliche Sunday

I thought this week that we could do some older  phrases. I was amazed at how long “swan song” (pre-100 AD) has lasted in our vocabulary, so let’s look at some  more outdated clichés that have stuck around for a while.It must be the flair that made them live in our imagination for so long.

stuff and nonsense: telling a person they were being ridiculous. This phrase is only 175 years old, being first found in written form in 1827, but I have always liked it. It was first used by a politician, who said “”He had at once to declare, that all notions of concerting and of dictating to the King in the exercise of his prerogative, was merestuff and nonsense“* in a parliamentary debate in England.   It is  lovely way of telling someone they have no idea, and in this day and age, they would probably just go “huh?”!

rub the wrong way: to be insensitive to how someone is feeling, especially during a conversation. This is often thought of as being from rubbing a cat’s (or other animal)  fur the wrong way,resulting in one peeved feline. However, it really dates back to colonial times. Servants used to wet-rub and then dry- rub the wide wood plank floors, and if they did it against the grain the result was streaky and messy. Employers of these servants were peeved as the feline would have been, especially if it was not fixed before company came. They then blamed the servants, saying they “rubbed it the wrong way.”

blue jeans: pants traditionally made of a blue denim cloth. Although these days “jeans” can be made of almost any color and finish, jeans became popular earlier than most of us imagine. In 1495, King Henry VIII of England made a contribution to history that should remain forever: he bought 262 bolts of a heavy cloth termed “jean.” It was long wearing and durable, and remained its original color for many years until someone decided to dye it blue. While it would take a bit longer for it become fashionable for men and women, jeans have lasted for over 600 years!

hocus-pocus: vaguely magical words used many acts. This phrase is also much older than I would have thought, dating back to middle ages. Jugglers used it, mangling words from the Church to make the act sound important. They probably got the idea from commoners, who also mangled the words, having ho idea what the Latin words from Mass really meant:

In the Middle Ages, most people were illiterate and certainly didn’t understand Latin, the language of the Catholic mass.  During the Eucharist in the mass, the priest would turn away from the congregation and look at the cross, making his words hard to hear and/or understand.  When he raised the host (bread), he uttered the words “Hoc est corpus mei……”, or “This is my body….”, in Latin.  The congregation didn’t understand the meaning of the words, but they did know that, somehow through some magic, these words turned the bread into the actual body of Christ, the fantastic magical event of transubstantiation.  So, words that sounded like “hocus pocus” to the illiterate and uneducated masses would enable a magical and miraculous event to transpire, and, presumably, these words were a facilitator or enabler of a magical act or event. **

green-eyed monster: to be jealous. Another famous phrase started by Shakespeare. In Othello, Act III, Shakespeare used a cat’s green eyes to mean jealousy. He also used the actual cliché, “green-eyed monster,” in the play.





*Word Ancestry

**Words, Phrases, or Sayings


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