Take the bull by the horns

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.


Be driven up the wall

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’.


Good as gold!

What’s this?! Iddy with a smile on his face?! That must be because he’s


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.


Put a sock in it!

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.




Have your head in the clouds

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.


Feeling blueDefinition: 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.


On cloud nine
Definition: To be incredibly happy/ to be in state of euphoria

Example: After winning the lottery, being asked out by a supermodel, and seeing his boss fall down a mineshaft, all in the same day, Simon was on Cloud Nine.


On Cloud Nine has a number of explanations, with plenty of contradictory threads.

1) It has been claimed that this is a by-product of weather classification, attributed to both the US Weather Bureau of the 1950’s and the  International Cloud Atlas of 1896. In their categorisation of clouds, set number nine was the billowing cumulonimbus. You know…. the thunderstormy ones. One extra fact seems to negate this explanation. Both scales went to ten. Choosing a second best category to define the ultimate state of happiness seems illogical.

2) A second claim is that this refers to the ninth state of enlightenment in Buddism. But Iddy’s counted those. There are ten of them as well.

3) In Chinese Han mythology, there are nine levels to heaven, nine being the highest, so this seems more fitting.

To make matters more confusing, the number nine seems to be a relatively recent arrival to the whole cloud saga. Cloud seven was the most popular version of the phrase for decades, probably related to seventh heaven. Other versions found in print have been clouds 8 and 39. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the number nine became predominant. In the 1950’s, there was a TV variety show called “Cloud Nine”, but it isn’t clear whether the show or the currently numbered idiom came first. A bit like the chicken and the egg.