Definition: A very, very long time.
Example: Surveying the damage after the party, Martin realised it would take a month of Sundays to get it all cleared up, especially that stuffed moose head stuck in the toilet.
To dig deeper into the origin of this idiom, we need to define its meaning mathematically. A Month of Sundays is not just a very, very long time. It the calendar period it would take to rack up 30 or 31 Sundays, namely 30 or 31 weeks.
The phrase first appears in print in 1759, during a time when the Sabbath was observed much more closely then than it is today. Not only was it a day of rest as it is still considered to be in Christian societies now, it was strictly enforced. You were not meant to work, you were required to attend church, give thanks, and not allowed to indulge in any pleasures. Puritanical societies considered music, drinking, feasting, dancing, and almost any other activity out of bounds on the Sabbath.
Iddy thinks the portrait of Whistler’s mother, painted a hundred years later, probably sums up Sundays under those conditions. Dress in black. Frown. Sit quietly and stare at the wall. Make sure you are sitting in a normal chair, not a rocker. Rocking on a Sunday would be too much like fun.
Sundays would be very boring indeed. A month of Sundays would be interminably long.
Co-incidentally, those 30 weeks are about the same length as a typical pregnancy. Iddy wonders if there’s a connection. I think most mothers would agree those nine months feel very long indeed!
Iddy’s mother doesn’t agree. Iddy was a bit slow. He took a year and a half to make his appearance. That’s two months of Sundays.
Definition: Excessive bureaucracy, or the rigid enforcement of rules despite the fact that they hinder progress.
Example: There was so much red tape involved in Linda’s application to change the colour of her house, she seriously considered blowing it up and starting again.
Red tape is believed to date back to the reign of Charles V, King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor. That’s way way back in the sixteenth century. His administration bound their most important documents in red ribbon. Some Spanish government departments still follow this procedure today.
Adoption into English followed a hundred years later.
In literary terms, red tape‘s most prominent use is probably from David Copperfield. In it, Charles Dickens refers to Britannia being ’bound hand and foot in red tape’ .
Definition: To confront a problem head on.
Example: Jill decided to take the bull by the horns and have her moustache waxed.
Taking the bull by the horns is unsurprisingly, traced most commonly to the Wild West and rodeo sports. In the discipline of steer wrestling, a cowboy tries to bring down a young steer single-handedly by facing it head on, grasping it by its horns, and forcing it to the ground. They seem to have been a bit short on entertainment back then, so it was something to do while they waited for the Playstation to be invented.
There is some evidence that the phrase was used as early as the 17th century. This would be prior to the era of six-shooters and cattle rustling. If so, then its roots may be anchored in an older cow related sport / torture, that of bull fighting.
Definition: To die.
Example: Just before James was to collect the five dollars that Noddy owed him, Noddy kicked the bucket, ensuring that James was never going to see that money again. Some people have no respect.
The first written usage of this charming but deadly idiom was in 1785, but its origins are a bit muddied to say the least. There are at least three common explanations.
- The first and most popular story claims that it has to do with death by hanging, either by suicide or execution. The hapless victim, having climbed onto a bucket to put their head in the noose, would literally ‘kick the bucket’ in their death throes. It does seem a bit far-fetched that a bucket was such a common device in hangings.
- The second theory uses a bit of linguistic history. Trebuchet is a French word meaning a balance (also a medieval weapon that utilises the properties of tension and balance). The English language commandeered the word and shortened it to ‘bucket’, meaning a beam or yoke, though this usage of the word is rarely used today. It is theorised that the ‘bucket’ in our idiom is the beam that pigs and other farm animals were hung from as they were slaughtered. They too ‘kicked the bucket’ during their struggles. Another lovely image for you there.
- Thirdly, some say it refers to an old Catholic custom of leaving a bucket of holy water at the feet of the recently deceased. Friends and relatives could sprinkle it on the dearly departed when they paid their respects. Iddy’s not sure there’s much kicking happening in this explanation.
Definition: To be so irritated by something (or somebody), you are willing to climb walls to escape.
Example: Matt was being driven up the wall by his neighbour’s compulsion to play the kazoo all night long.
There seems to be no absolute origin for being driven up the wall, probably because it is so self explanatory. We’ve all had those moments. You’ve been cornered by somebody at a party. They’re telling you about some tax loophole which could save you ninety-seven cents each and every year. The pure mental image of climbing or driving up a wall to escape is like the image of a tall cold drink when you’re lost in the desert.
Its meaning seems to have changed subtly in the past few decades. We have come to use the term ‘driven’ less and less as a way of expressing a push or a force, and more and more as the act of controlling a car. Just like poor Iddy here. Not quite sure where he thinks he’s going. Maybe he’s misinterpreted the term ‘uptown’.
What’s this?! Iddy with a smile on his face?! That must be because he’s
GOOD AS GOLD
Definition: To be well behaved or obedient.
Example: Timmy and Tammy, the twins from Hell, were actually as good as gold when they visited their Grandparents, and didn’t end up killing them as was widely predicted.
The meaning of good as gold has altered somewhat since its inception. We now use it exclusively for describing behaviour, but originally it meant that something was genuine. Bank and credit notes were often eyed with suspicion, as they were open to counterfeiting, and were only a promise of payment, rather than payment itself. Silver and gold coins were more readily accepted, being of tangible value, and a comforting weight in the hand.
Why the focus moved from the lustre of precious metals to the behaviour of children appears unclear.
Definition: A command to be quiet, or less politely, to shut up!
Example: Mitchell was told to put a sock in it when he began the story of how his wife lost her skirt in the closing bus door.
Iddy’s latest idiom appears to originate from the early part of the 20th century. Despite its relatively recent appearance, there seems to be no single accepted explanation for it. Iddy has heard three equally convincing tales.
- Early gramophones had no volume controls, so people used to stuff the horn with a sock to reduce the volume. Boy, the world was a harsh place before the digital age. Next, you’ll be telling us that they had to hand crank a handle to get the record spinning. Oh. They did, didn’t they.
- Like the expression ‘bite the bullet’, it originates from battlefield medical procedures. The unfortunate soul being operated on in the trenches had a sock or other item of clothing stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams. This was for the benefit of the surgeon, the soldier’s comrades, and to stop the enemy from pinpointing their position from the noise.
- Simplest of all, it is your overwhelming urge when cornered by a dreadful bore; to jam a sock into the offending orifice. And the smellier the sock, the better.
Definition: To be impractical, absent-minded, or living in a complete fantasy.
Example: Whoever thought that The Exorcist was a suitable movie to show at the chidrens’ party must have had their head in the clouds.
Iddy was unable to find any specific origination for head in the clouds beyond the mental image it conjures,up. Iddy, you’ve let us down. Again.
The phrase is older than you may think, first appearing in print in the mid-1600’s. Back then, only balloonists could physically get their heads in the clouds.
Definition: Elderly, past your prime.
Example: At the age of ninety-six, Herbert soon discovered he was a bit long in the tooth to dance the Macarena.
Long in the tooth is one of the few idioms that Iddy has found a definitive origin for, at least so far. It comes from the horse trade. The older a horse gets, the more its gums recede, making its teeth look longer. Thus, a horse that is ‘long in the tooth’ is old.
Definition: To be sad or depressed.
Example: Sandra was feeling blue as George Clooney hadn’t answered a single one of her 337 love letters to him.
Feeling blue goes way, way back, first recorded in 1385, and during the intervening centuries, its origin has faded.
There are no shortages of theories though. Here’s a few.
- The blue is referring to that of lifelessness, as in blue lips and skin.
- The blue is referring to rain and storms, reaching even further back, into Greek mythology, where Zeus would make it rain when he was sad.
- The blue is referring to an old naval custom, that of flying blue flags, or painting a blue band along the hull of a ship upon return to its home port if its captain had perished during the last voyage.