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JUMP AT/ AFRAID OF 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.

BITE THE BULLET

 

Definition: To accept the inevitable and proceed bravely.

 

Example: Despite the risk, John decided to bite the bullet and tell his landlady that he had sat on her cat.

 

Origin:

The most widely expressed theory for this idiom is that it came from battlefield surgery, that patients in field hospitals were encouraged to bite down on a bullet during surgery to help deal with the pain and muffle their screams (nice.), but this seems unlikely when studied in further detail. There are no specific written accounts of this ever happening, and the choice of a bullet seems pretty poor. A leather strap or stick of wood would have been more effective, and less likely to be swallowed as well!

Another theory, also militarily grounded, is that it originated from the Indian Rebellion of 1857. When new rifles were issued to the Indian Sepoy fighters, they included greased paper cartridges that held the powder. These had to be bitten open. The Sepoys objected, not because it tasted horrible (which it probably did), but on religious grounds. The Hindu fighters feared the grease was derived from cows, and the Muslims feared it was from pigs. They were ordered to ignore their religious qualms, and thus ‘bite the bullet’.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Alas, it seems the phrase predates this period of British colonialism.

So, we’re still no closer to nailing this one down.

Iddy doesn’t really care. He just wants to get the explosives out of his mouth!

ALL GREEK TO ME

Definition: Something you cannot understand, usually because it is so complicated.

Example: When asked by his algebra teacher to solve the equation, Mike just shrugged and said, “Sorry. It’s all Greek to me!”

Origin:

It is widely thought that ‘all Greek to me’ derives from the Latin phrase ‘Graecum est, non legitur or Graecum est, non potest legi’.  How’s your latin? Iddy’s is a bit rusty, but he did eventually translate it: ‘It is Greek; it cannot be read‘. Those Romans. Already dismissive of the civilisations before them!

Its modern form began to creep into the English language in the sixteenth century. Similar phrases appear in plays by Dekker  and some fellow called William Shakespeare.

This idiom has many different variations in languages around the world. After all, Greeks are not likely to use it, are they? They in fact say ‘This strikes me as Chinese‘. Here a sampling of other language variations:

Italian: To me, this is Arabic.

Slovakian: This is a Spanish village to me.

Icelandic: Fish egg language.

Comparing the incomprehensible to the Chinese language is by far the most common. Hungarian, Hebrew, French, Dutch, and Arabic, to name but a few, use variations on ‘Sounds Chinese to me‘. Not to be outdone, English writing is sometimes referred to as ‘chicken intestines‘ in Cantonese.

Finally, this idiom has a link to the Spanish term ‘gringo‘, slang for somebody not of Spanish origin or non-Spanish speaking. It is a shortening of ‘hablar en griego’. Translation? ‘Speaking in Greek.’

ON THE MONEY

Definition: Something exactly correct: a place, an idea, or an amount

Example: Kevin’s  frisbee throw was on the money. It was a shame that Lennie wasn’t looking at the time. The doctor told Lennie to come back on Thursday to have the stitches removed.

Origin:

‘On the money’, or ‘right on the money’ as it also often expressed, is among several idioms about exactitude. There’s ‘on the mark’, ‘on target‘, ‘on the dot’, and ‘spot on‘ to name a few. Those idioms probably have roots in archery. They all express hitting the centre of a target which is usually marked with a spot or mark.

‘On the money’ does not come from the same root. Most sources agree it has to do with horse racing, specifically the related bets. A winning horse would be ‘on the money‘. A losing one would be ‘out of the money‘.

Iddy has heard one other explanation, that it has to do with surveying. Surveyors sometimes hammer a metal ‘benchmark’ rod into the ground at a precisely defined position. Sometimes these rods are difficult to see through the viewfinder of their transit (the viewing equipment on a tripod you will have seen surveyors using). A coin placed atop the benchmark would make the rod easier to see. So, when they lined up the coin in their viewfinder, they would be ‘on the money’.

Iddy doesn’t know if there is any truth in that one, but he likes it anyway.

Right now he’s trying to figure out which shop would accept the giant note he’s found….

DEAD AS A DOORNAIL

Definition: To be completely, irretrievably dead, or for an inanimate object; completely useless

Example: No matter how many times he turned the key, Gerry’s piece of garbage Chevy refused to start. It was as dead as a doornail.

 Origin:

This is one of the oldest idioms that can be found in print, going back to the fourteenth century.

But why doornails as a comparison for death?

To better explain the reason, maybe we should look at exactly what a doornail was back then. If you go into your local Home Depot or B&Q today, you’d be unlikely to see a big bucket labelled ‘doornails’.

Doors would have been heavy slabs of wood, often with iron reinforcements. The nails used to bind them together were long, flat headed beasts that would have been driven through the door, with the protruding end bent over and hammered flat. In the 1300’s, all iron hardware would have been valuable. There was no mass production. Each piece was hand made. So none was wasted. If a door had reached the end of its usefulness, all the hardware would have been stripped from it for reuse. However, the doornails, having been bent and hammered would be unusable. They were useless. They were dead.

Well, its a theory.

There have been other ‘dead as’ phrases. There was ‘dead as mutton‘ which has fallen out of fashion, just like mutton. And there is the still popular ‘dead as a dodo‘ which uses the comparison to the world’s most famous extinction. It also reminds us as to how much, we, as a race, are screwing up the planet. If we’re not careful, we’ll all be as dead as a dodo as well. Or even a doornail.

COLD FEET

cold feet

Definition: Being so overcome with doubt that you do not proceed

Example: Peter got cold feet over his upcoming wedding to Maria. After all, they’d only been on two dates.

Origin:

Why icy toes have anything to do with uncertainty is absolutely unknown. Even its first use is a source of debate. It is usually accepted as being first used by author Stephen Crane in 1896, but many earlier examples have been touted. Some decades earlier. Some centuries.

Cold feet is most often used like in the example, in terms of somebody uncertain as to whether they want to proceed with an upcoming wedding.

When Iddy was about to get married to his second cousin Hilda, he had a raft of symptoms. Upset stomach. Cold sweats. The shakes. Crying eyeballs. Dry mouth. But his feet remained surprisingly warm. He cured all his symptons by coming to Earth before the wedding.