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HIT THE BOOKS

Definition: To study for a test or exam

Example: Having scored a measly twenty percent on his last math test, Robert decided it was time to hit the books.

Origin:

There is no golden explanation for the origin for ‘hit the books’. Used since the mid twentieth century, it is probably related to other similar phrases that used ‘hit’ as a way of expressing starting something… phrases like ‘hit the trail‘ or ‘hit the road‘. If you are ‘hitting the books‘, you are starting to read them. Simple as that.

Iddy’s a bit disappointed. He was hoping for a Victorian tale of a bare knuckle boxer who challenged a library to a fight.

DRAW THE LINE

Definition: To set a limit or refuse to proceed any further

Example: Mindy had to draw the line when her husband brought a pot-bellied pig home instead of a puppy. It was her or the pig.

Origin:

There are a number of theories as to what specific drawn line in history gave birth to this idiom. Here’s a sampling.

Tennis

When tennis was introduced to the English from France in the 1400s, there were no official dimensions for the court. It was up to the players to draw out the lines that the ball could not cross.

Farm boundaries

In seventeenth century rural England, farmers ploughed a line with their horses to define their holdings.

Boxing

During prizefights, a line was drawn in the ring that the fighters could not cross or they would be disqualified.

Parliament

A line was drawn in the chamber between the opposing parties. Politics were obviously much more exciting in the past. Fights were common, and the line was an attempt to reduce this. Fists were obviously in use, but more worryingly, so were swords.

JUMP OFF THE PAGE

Definition: Something that grabs your attention, especially an image or written description in a book

Example: The novel’s main character, Harry the two-headed chimp, really jumped off the page.

Origin:

Iddy couldn’t find anything to enrich the explanation of ‘jump off the page‘, not even how long it has been in use. The meaning is quite evident, that something striking on a printed page will engage your imagination and come alive.

In his illustration, Iddy’s just realised he didn’t check how high up that page was before he jumped from it. I suppose that introduces him to the ancient advice ‘Look before you leap’….

ALL EARS

Definition: To show a keen interest

Example: “I’m all ears!” Karen said to her sister, sensing there was some juicy gossip to be heard.

Origin:

All ears‘ first appeared in print in the eighteenth century. Its origin is purely descriptive. As we use our ears to hear, and most of our communication is done verbally, to be ‘all ears’ means to focus all your attention on hearing what is being said.

Iddy is not enjoying his new look. He has often complained about a general lack of ears, but now he has these, things have become ridiculous!

BITE YOUR TONGUE

bite your tongue

Definition: Be quiet! Don’t say that!

Example: Hillary wanted to tell Donald what she really thought of him, but instead she bit her tongue and kept quiet.

Origin:

Bite your tongue‘ is a popular phrase originates at least to the time of Shakespeare. He used  a variation of it in  Henry VI.

It is supposed it refers to the fact that if you hold your tongue between your teeth, it is impossible to speak. Alternatively, perhaps it is a proposed form of punishment. Say something nasty, and you should be forced to chomp down.  After all, biting your tongue is extremely painful.

There are a couple of closely related phrases:

Hold your tongue” which has the identical meaning. ‘Hold’ in this instance means to stop, not to literally take hold of it.

Wash your mouth out (with soap)” for when somebody has used profanities.

Iddy has had his fair share of having his mouth washed out over the years. A mouth that big is bound to get you into trouble….

 

JUMP AT/ AFRAID OF YOUR OWN SHADOW

jump at your own shadow

Definition: To be extremely fearful

Example: Kathy was so timid, she was afraid of her own shadow

Origin:

So. Two phrases. Same meaning. You can be afraid of your own shadow, and you can jump at your own shadow. The former seems to be older, appearing in print as far back as the 1500s.

It is fairly apparent as to what it means. I think we’ve all seen cats and dogs literally jumping when seeing their shadows, and though we may deny it, it has probably happened to us all at one time or another.

There is an actual phobia where the sufferer truly fears shadows. Not just on that one occasion in a dark alley, but on a day to day basis. It is known as Sciophobia, scio being Greek for shadow.

Iddy’s jumping here for a very good reason. Just for a second he thought his second cousin Hilda had tracked him down, the woman he jilted at the altar back home. She was very grey and very round.

BURN THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS

Definition: To live a hectic lifestyle or to work for too many hours

Example: Raj found himself burning the candle at both ends  as he juggled two day jobs as well as being a superstar DJ by night.

Origin:

To burn the candle at both ends has changed meaning since its inception in the 18th century. It originally described senseless waste. Candles were the main source of artificial lighting. Not only were they widely sought after, they were expensive. Burning a candle from both ends would use it up twice as quickly without any benefit.

With the changes wrought by the age of electricity, the phrase changed as well. The candle became more of a figurative object, representing the hours of the day. If you work all day and into the night, or even work all day and party all night, you are burning away those hours just like the wax on that doubly lit candle. The inference is, if you carry on, you yourself will burn out.

Iddy’s a bit worried. He can’t put this candle down now that he’s lit it, and pretty soon, those two flames are going to want to meet in the middle. Right where his hand is now.

PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

Definition: A way of asking somebody what they are thinking about

Example: Jack stared down the hill holding his bucket of water. “A penny for your thoughts?” Jill asked him.

Origin:

There is some debate whether ‘a penny for your thoughts’ is an idiom at all. It might be classed as a proverb or as a cliche. Or, considering the value of a penny, maybe it’s an insult. Whatever it may be, it’s a dying phrase, used less and less as the century advances. It is more likely to be used by your parents than by you.

It is first found in print in a book by Sir Thomas More, written in 1535, but how it came about is lost in the mists of time (to use another idiom). We must consider that the offer in his day was much more financially rewarding. A silver penny was worth a fair deal more. Sources Iddy looked at pegged its value at anywhere from £1.60 ($2.25 US)  to £16.00 ($22.50 US) depending on how you calculate the penny’s buying power.

Incidentally, the word ‘penny’ might originate from the King of Mencia (modern day Midlands in the UK) in the Sixth century. His name was Penda and he issued coins called ‘pending‘. They later became known as ‘penige‘, then ‘peny‘, before finally reaching our modern term. In fact, Thomas More’s original quote is actually ‘ a peny for your thought’.

Whatever that penny may be worth, Iddy will need more. He’s thinking so hard, he’s apt to burst a blood vessel and he’ll need enough cash to cover the medical bills. Iddy’s a careless fellow. He forgot to take out travel insurance before coming to Earth.

 

HEAD OVER HEELS

Definition: To be excited, especially in regards to being totally in love with somebody or something.

Example: Gary was head over heels in love with his new phone. But he had always found technology easier to get on with than people.

Origin:

Head over heels has gone through some transformations on its way to us. Originally, it was heels over head, and simply meant to tumble or be temporarily upside-down. That makes some sort of sense. Our heels are normally below our head, so inverting them describes being upside-down quite succinctly. The modern phrase, with our head above our heels, in no way describes being upended. Our heads are normally above our feet, so where’s the upside-downiness gone?

That’s the world of idioms for you. They make no freaking sense sometimes.

Anyway, since its first inception back in the 14th century, the body parts did indeed swap positions, so by the 1700’s, we were falling head over heels. It still retained its original meaning: to physically fall.

The first recorded instance of it being used to describe excitement or love wasn’t until 1833 in America.

Another example of Americans perverting the English language? Discuss.

KEEP YOUR HAIR ON!

Keep your hair on!

Definition: Calm down….don’t get upset or angry

Example: “Keep your hair on!” Bill’s wife said to him. It was easy for her to say. It wasn’t her moped that had been stolen.

Origin:

There have been a number of similar expressions over the years, advising people to keep something on. There’s been ‘keep your shirt on‘ and ‘keep your hat on‘. Both of these possibly have to do with losing your cool and getting into an actual fight. In that case, you may indeed take your hat or shirt off in preparation. After all, you wouldn’t want to damage that hat, or get blood on that expensive shirt. That sort of prep probably wouldn’t include your hair, unless of course, it was a wig. Surely then the phrase should be ‘keep your wig on‘…

It may have to do more with frustration and worry, rather than outright anger. Long term worrying can lead to hair loss. Frustration can lead to some folks literally pulling their hair out.

Whatever the case, Iddy can’t relate to this idiom at all. Despite the fact that he’s basically one big ball of anger, frustration, and worry, he’s never had any hair to lose.