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.