Tis Sunday again, and while this Sunday was almost busier than last Sunday, I can’t let two slide! And since I have an interview tomorrow (please cross your fingers and toes–and your eyes when you aren’t driving–for me!) I decided to go with medical clichés. I was particularly intrigued by “a man of my kidney” and had to include it. It is actually the most medically based phrase in the bunch. Some of these are a real stretch, their only qualification being that they do in fact include a body part.
While some of these are familar, I was tickled by the histories of several of the cliches. I definitely was not expecting cannibals when I started this subject. 😉
to have one’s heart in one’s shoes: while this cliché has come to mean mere disappointment, it originally meant to feel extreme fear. The first recorded writing of this was in the 15th century, by a humorist that wrote that “his heart fell down into his toe.”
to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve: this well-known cliche means to show emotions openly. While Shakespeare used this phrase rather a lot, in Othello as well as Love’s Labor’s Lost, he was simply adapting a well-known phrase that was popular in his time.
to have cold feet: to lose one’s nerve. This phrase was born in America, most likely in the 1890s. It has a most amusing back story:
“Some wife, hearing a noise during the night, may have aroused her worthy but timorous husband to investigate the source. He, poor wight, may have said that his feet were too cold–meaning, literally that his feet were so cold and the floor so icy that he couldn’t even chase a mouse. “Ya-a-ah,” she may have retorted, “you and your cold feet!” And, if she were like some wives, she lost no time in passing he word around among all his friends that “Ed had such cold feet last night he couldn’t even get out of bed for fear a mouse would bite him”*
a man of my kidney: a person whose temperament and thoughts were similar to the speaker. We tend to use “a person after my own heart” in more modern use. However, when the original phrase came into use during the Middle ages, common medical thought was based on the four “Humours.” These included phlegm, blood, black bile, and bilious. In this arrangement, the kidney was thought to be the seat of the emotions.
to sweat blood: to perform such arduous work it almost seems like one sweat is blood. This is an allusion to Jesus on the Mount of Olives:
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”*
Around the 17oos the phrase became more common and the religious aspect was not thought of as much. In later years, the phrase became synonymous with “pouring my blood, sweat and tears” into an effort.
to stab in the back: this is used as a figurative way to say one delivered a cowardly blow “in the back,” and generally the blow is rendered by someone we thought friendly to us. The original meaning, however, was much more exact. It goes back to a time when footpads roamed the streets. A footpad, keeping the blade hidden under his cape, would pass a victim and then quickly stab them in the back, taking the purse and running as the hapless victim fell.
to make one’s mouth water: to anticipate something greatly. This one was quite literal, and likely goes back to the first time man roasted a beast over a fire. However, it did not enter the written record until 1555 in England, and was first mentioned in reference to cannibals. Historian Richard Eden wrote:
“These craftie foxes…..espying their enemies afarre of, beganne to swalowe theyr spettle as their mouthes watered for greediness of theyr pray.”*
* all my definitions and quotes this week came from A Hog on Ice, by Charles Funk