Imagine you're learning a new language and hear someone say ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ or ‘break a leg’, this would be very confusing! And on top of it all, even if you ask a native speaker what on earth these ridiculous sayings mean, unfortunately, not many would be able to answer your question. But here at Bored Panda we went the extra mile to find out the origins of the most frequently used phrases. Who knew you could learn about language and have fun at the same time? So buckle up cause we’re about to dive deep into the history of languages to find out the incredible origins of commonly used phrases all around the world!

#1 Cat Got Your Tongue

Cat Got Your Tongue

Meaning: Said to someone who remains silent when they are expected to speak.

Origin: There are two stories on how this saying came into being. The first one says that it could have come from a whip called “Cat-o’-nine-tails” that was used by the English Navy for flogging and often left the victims speechless. The second one may be from ancient Egypt, where liars’ tongues were cut out as punishment and... Read More

Meaning: Said to someone who remains silent when they are expected to speak.

Origin: There are two stories on how this saying came into being. The first one says that it could have come from a whip called “Cat-o’-nine-tails” that was used by the English Navy for flogging and often left the victims speechless. The second one may be from ancient Egypt, where liars’ tongues were cut out as punishment and fed to the cats.

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Night Owl 3 weeks ago

Either way that's a dark origin

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#2 The Walls Have Ears

The Walls Have Ears

Meaning: Be careful what you say as people may be eavesdropping.

Origin: The face Louvre Palace in France was believed to have a network of listening tubes so that it would be possible to hear everything that was said in different rooms. People say that this is how the Queen Catherine de’Medici discovered political secrets and plots.

GraziBass Report

Last Hurrah 3 weeks ago

I would think that the statue is stone deaf.

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#3 Bury The Hatchet

Bury The Hatchet

Meaning: End a quarrel or conflict and become friendly.

Origin: During negotiations between Puritans and Native Americans men would bury all of their weapons, making them inaccessible.

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Anne Reid 3 weeks ago

This phrase predates the Puritans. Several Native American tribes joined together as one nation so they could better defend themselves against a warrior tribe. They symbolically buried a stone hatchet under a cypress tree. No group would bury all of their weapons, because there are always other threats, the need to hunt, and the possibility of one side not holding up their end.

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#4 Cold Feet

Cold Feet

Meaning: Loss of nerve or confidence.

Origin: This idiom originates from a military term, warriors who had frozen feet were not able to rush into battle.

Viewminder Report

Paul K. Johnson 3 weeks ago

Nowadays it's trendy to get an arrow in the knee.

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#5 Big Wig

Big Wig

Meaning: An important person, especially in a particular sphere

Origin: Back in the 18th century, the most important political figures would wear the biggest wigs, hence today influential people are called big wigs.

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Laugh Fan 3 weeks ago

In the UK we still use the phrase bigwigs though fortunately don't tend to wear them. Not that type anyway!!

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#6 Caught Red-Handed

Caught Red-Handed

Meaning: Used to indicate that a person has been discovered in or just after the act of doing something wrong or illegal.

Origin: There was an old law stating that if someone butchered an animal that didn’t belong to him, he would only be punished if he was caught with blood on his hands. If one was caught with the meat but his hands were clean, he would not be punished.

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Miss Cris 3 weeks ago (edited)

What a stupid law, who did it? Which was the context?

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#7 Raining Cats And Dogs

Raining Cats And Dogs

Meaning: Rain very hard.

Origin: This idiom has two stories that try to explain its origin. The first explanation says that the origin of this phrase comes from Norse mythology, where cats would symbolise heavy rains and dogs were associated with the God of storms, Odin. The second version says that in 16th century England, houses had thatched roofs which were one of the few places where animals were able... Read More

Meaning: Rain very hard.

Origin: This idiom has two stories that try to explain its origin. The first explanation says that the origin of this phrase comes from Norse mythology, where cats would symbolise heavy rains and dogs were associated with the God of storms, Odin. The second version says that in 16th century England, houses had thatched roofs which were one of the few places where animals were able to get warm. Sometimes, when it would start to rain heavily, roofs would get slippery and cats and dogs would fall off, making it look like it’s raining cats and dogs!

Wendy Report

Nadja Aagaard Dueholm 3 weeks ago

Not entirely true Mathias. Freja, godess of love, heartache and birth, had cats. But none of them ever rained down from heaven!

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#8 Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Meaning: Family relationships and loyalties are the strongest and most important ones.

Origin: Even though many might think this saying means that we should put family ahead of friends, it actually meant the complete opposite. The full phrase actually was “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” and it referred to warriors who shared the blood they shed in battles together. These ‘blood brothers’ were... Read More

Meaning: Family relationships and loyalties are the strongest and most important ones.

Origin: Even though many might think this saying means that we should put family ahead of friends, it actually meant the complete opposite. The full phrase actually was “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” and it referred to warriors who shared the blood they shed in battles together. These ‘blood brothers’ were said to have stronger bonds than biological brothers.

skalekar1992 Report

Jessica Nichole 3 weeks ago

This is actually referring to how old covenants or contracts were made. An animal was cut in half and the two halves were laid on the ground a few feet apart from each other forming a path. The two making the covenant would walk down the path saying "may this be done to me should I break my oath"

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#9 Don't Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Don't Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Meaning: Find fault with something that has been received as a gift or favor.

Origin: While buying a horse, people would determine the horse’s age and condition based on its teeth, and then decide whether they want to buy it or not. This is the reason why people use this idiom to say it is rude to look for flaws in a thing that was given to you as a gift.

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Master Markus 3 weeks ago

Well this is the first one I've come across on this article that I can unequivocally say is true. (Not saying the others are definitely lies, but rather that they may be missing some historical context or espousing some popular, but untrue theories on the origins.)

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#10 Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Meaning: Be pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action.

Origin: This phrase refers to hunting dogs who chase their prey up a tree. Once it climbed the tree the dogs bark at them, yet sometimes the dogs would continue barking even if the prey was no longer there.

Scochran4 Report

Last Hurrah 3 weeks ago

Wrong bark on the right tree?

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