jump at your own shadow

Definition: To be extremely fearful

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


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.


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.


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.


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.