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Home / Interesting Facts / History of old sayings

History of old sayings

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History not only provides us with a nostalgic glimpse at how things used to be, but its lessons can still teach us things today. Many of us fondly refer to “the good old days” when times were purer and life was simpler. Here’s a quick rundown of old sayings and what they’re really referring to.

Piss Poor

piss poor
They don’t have a pot to piss in

Animal skins were often tanned with urine. So poor families would pee in a pot and bring it to the tannery to sell.

If you had to do this, you were “piss poor.” Which leads to…

Worse than that were the really poor folks who couldn’t even afford a pot. They “didn’t have a pot to piss in”.

Wedding Bouquet

Wedding Bouquet
She cleans up well.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.

 

However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

Thus started the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. After the wedding was done she’d toss it to her stinkiest friend.

 

 

 

Bath time
The yearly bath was a zoo

Yearly Bath Time

Bath time consisted of a giant tub, hours of filling it with water, then heating the water.

The man of the house had the privilege of clean water. Next in line were all the sons. Finally the wife and daughters got their turn followed lastly by the baby.

By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

 

 

Things Live in the Roof

Thatched roof
The Thatchers live here.

Houses had thatched roofs with thick straw-piled high and no supporting wood underneath. In the winters, animals would crawl into the roof to keep warm. Mice, cats, and small dogs would find their way into the roofing.

Especially heavy rain storms found the animals slipping out of the roof: Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

With thatched roofing, there was pretty much nothing to stop things from falling into the house. In the bedroom this could really mess up your beauty sleep.

To keep bugs and other things out, big posts were added to the bed and covered with a sheet. This is how canopy beds came to be.

Dirt Poor

Dirt Poor
So much dirt, so little time.

For most people, their floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had floors that were something other than dirt. Hence the term, “dirt poor.”

Most wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery when wet. This was especially true in the Northern winters. For traction, they’d spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing.

As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would start falling outside. To hold the thresh inside the house, they’d put a block of wood at the entrance, hence, “a thresh hold.”

Some Like it Hot

Peas Porridge Hot
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot…

In colonial times, meals were cooked in a kettle hung over the fireplace. Every morning, they lit the fire and added things to the pot.

The porridge was mostly vegetables and barely any meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and start over the next morning.

Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

On rare occasions these families would obtain pork. This was a special treat which they’d show off to visitors by hanging their bacon.

It was a sign of wealth and status for a man to “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests, and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Poisoned Pewter

Pewter Plates
Them darn poisonous tomatoes.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death.

This happened most often with tomatoes, so for 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.

Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.

They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up.

Hence the custom of holding a “wake.”

Dead Ringers

In small old villages, locals were always running out of places to bury the dead.

Graveyard Shift
Them darn Dead Ringers

They would dig up coffins and take the bones to a bone-house in order to reuse the grave.

On reopening these coffins, roughly 1 out of 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside,.This lead to the realization that some people were being buried alive.

To help with this problem, they would tie a string on the wrist of the “corpse”, lead it through the coffin tied to a bell above ground.

Some unlucky guy would have to take up “the graveyard shift” to listen for the bell and dig up the now not so dead guy.

Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell,” or was considered a “dead ringer.”

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