Cliche Sunday

Ok, I had a week off so I will try to make a go of it this week. I worked 50 hours last week, and we had a family member in the hospital, so when I got off work, I was still in the hospital (I work in the hospital). Good thing its a nice hospital 🙂 And they have great food!

So, clichés….well, based on the last paragraph, I thought we could try body part cliches. Apparently, there are more than a few. Which makes sense, since  when looking around for something to compare to or explain an idea, the first thing at hand is, well, a hand!

hands down: to win easily, with little to no effort. This came from horse racing, where if a jockey could release the reins and put his hands down on the horse’s neck, it was because he was so far ahead and was definitely going to win. The phrase became popular in the mid 1800s, when horse racing  became fashionable.

There were good horses in those days, as he can well recall, But Barker upon Elepoo, hands down, shot by them all.
                                                                        –‘Pips’ Lyrics & Lays, 1867

to have bees in one’s bonnet: to be slightly daft. I always thought it meant to be overly excited about something, I guess I have been using it incorrectly! The original idea was that the continuous humming of bees around one’s head would be enough to drive one insane. It has been used as far back as the 1500s, with the original phrases being either “to have a head full of bees” or ” to have bees in the head, or in the brain.” Bonnet is a much nicer image.

cat got your tongue?: a question to get a response from someone who is unusually quiet. The first  written record of this phrase is from Ballou’s Monthly Magazine in 1881. In it the quote, it makes reference to children’s play, so it could have been used for quite a while before 1881 without adults paying attention. It is most likely a nonsensical children’s phrase, without a cat actually stealing anyone’s tongue 🙂

knee-jerk reaction: an initial, emotional response to something. This cliché is actually based on the body part, and the sharp reflex the knee has when tapped. Known as the patellar reflex, it was first noted by Sir Michael Foster:

Striking the tendon below the patella gives rise to a sudden extension of the leg, known as the knee-jerk.
Text-book of physiology, 1877

It was later used by O.O. McIntyre in 1921 as he wrote for the Coshocton Tribune. It has been going strong since then, and is still well used today.

put your best foot forward: to start a journey/task with purpose. This one has also morphed a bit over the  years, as most people use it currently to mean making the best first impression. The phrase has been around for a long time, with the first known written record in 1613:

Hee is still setting the best foot forward.
  –Sir Thomas Overbury’s A Wife

There is dithering over whether we can put our ‘best’ foot forward, or should it have been ‘better’ foot all along? Better is known to be, well, better than best. Shakespeare preferred ‘better’ when he used the phrase in King John, 1595:

Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.

However it should have been, “best foot” is what we say now–and have been saying for hundreds of years.

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