Origin Of Phrases?

I received an email from a business friend (my “Day Job”).  It is “Historical Trivia” and it is just crazy enough to possibly be believed.


In George Washington’s days, there were no cameras.  Ones image was either sculpted or painted.  Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms.  Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted.  Arms and legs are “limbs”, therefore painting them would cost the buyer more.  Hence the expression, “Okay, but it will cost you an arm and a leg”.  Artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint.


As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a year – May and October.  Women kept their hair covered, while men shaved their heads because of lice and bugs and wore wigs.  Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool.  They couldn’t wash the wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes.  The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term “Big Wig”.  Today we often use the term “He’s a Big Wig” because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.


In the late 1700’s many houses consisted of a large room with only one chair.  Commonly a long wide board folded down from the wall and was used for dining.  The “head of  household” always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on the floor.  Occasionally a guest, who was usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair during the meal.  To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge.  They called the one sitting in the chair the “chair man”.  Today in business, we use the expression or title “Chairman” or “Chairman of the Board”.


Personal hygiene left much room for improvement.  As a result, many women and men developed acne scars by adulthood.  The women would spread bee’s wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions.  When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman’s face she would be told “mind your own bee’s wax”.  Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term “crack a smile”.  In addition when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt.  Therefore the expressing “losing face”.


Ladies wore corsets.  A proper and dignified woman would have a corset that laced in the front.  The ties would be pulled very tight, therefore the term “straight laced” came to be.


Common entertainment included playing cards.  However, there was a tax levied when purchasing cards but only applicable to the Ace of Spades.  To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead.  Since most games require 52 cards these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because they weren’t “playing with a full deck”.


Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important.  Since there were no telephones, TV’s, or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars.  They were told to “go sip some Ale” and listen to people’s conversations and political concerns.  Many assistants were dispatched at different times.  “You go sip here” and “you go sip there”.  The two words “Go Sip” were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and thus we have the term “Gossip”.


At local taverns, pubs, and bars people drank from pint and quart sized containers.  A barmaids job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming.  She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in “pints” and who was drinking in “quarts”.  Hence the phrase “Minding your P’s and Q’s”.

Now for a funny story that deals with our current technological age.

When I bought my Blackberry I thought about the 30-year business I ran with 1800 employees.  All without a cell phone that plays music, takes videos, pictures, and communicates with Facebook and Twitter.  I signed up under duress for Twitter and Facebook so my seven kids, their spouses, 13 grand kids, and 2 great grand kids could communicate with me in the modern way.  I figured I could handle something as simple as Twitter with only 140 characters of space.

That was before one of my grand kids hooked me up for Tweeter, Tweetree, Twhirl, Twitterfon, Tweetie, and Twitterific, Tweetdeck, Twitpix, and something that sends messages to my cell phone and every other program within the texting world.  My phone was beeping every three minutes with the details of everything except the bowel movements of the entire next generation.  I am not ready to live like this.  I  keep my cell phone in the garage in my golf bag.

The kids bought me a GPS for my last birthday because they say I get lost every now and then going over to the grocery store or library.  I keep that in a box under my tool bench with the Bluetooth (it’s RED) phone I am supposed to use when I drive.  I used it once and was standing in line at Barnes and Noble talking to my wife.  Everyone in the nearest 50 yards was glaring at me.  I had to take my hearing aid out to use it and I got a little loud.

I mean, the GPS looked pretty smart on my dash board but the lady inside that gadget was the most annoying, rudest person I had run into in a long time.  Every 10  minutes she would sarcastically say “Re-cal-cu-lating”.  You would think that she could be nicer.  It was like she could barely tolerate me.  She would let go with a deep sigh and then tell me to make a legal U-turn at the next opportunity.  Then if I made a right turn instead…well it was not a good relationship.

When I get really lost now, I call my wife and tell her the name of the cross streets.  While she is starting to develop the same tone as Gypsy, the GPS Lady, at least she loves me.

To be perfectly frank, I am still trying to learn how to use the cordless phones in our house.  We have had them for 4 years, but I still haven’t figured out how I can lose three phones all at once and have to run around digging under chair cushions, checking bathrooms, and the dirty laundry baskets when the phone rings.

The world is getting too complex for me.  They even mess me up every time I go to the grocery store.  You would think they could settle on something themselves but this sudden “Paper or plastic?” every time I check out just knocks me for a loop.  I bought some of those cloth reuseable bags to avoid looking confused…but I never remember to take them in with me.  Now I toss it back to them.  When they ask me, “Paper or plastic?” I just say.  “Doesn’t matter to me.  I am bi-sacksual.”  Then it is their turn to stare at me with a blank look.

I was recently asked if I tweet.  I answered “No, but I do toot a lot”.

Everyone enjoy your weekend.


About Message In A Fold

I am an over the road truck driver in Drive-Away Transport part of the year, and the sole bookkeeper of this operation the other part of the year. I do a lot of whining until I can get in my craft room and play with paper and glue. View all posts by Message In A Fold

4 responses to “Origin Of Phrases?

  • gardenpinks

    No I don’t Tweet either Leslie but have been known to toot 🙂

    Very interesting facts and there are possibly as many different answers to some of them as there are questions! The p & q one is supposed to be attributed to the early printing press. When training apprentices the teacher would remind them to ‘Mind your p’s and q’s’ because it was very easy to get them wrong as the apprentices were looking at mirror images of letters. Apparently the phrase ‘don’t forget to dot your i’s and cross your t’s’ also came from manuscript lettering.

    I love finding out where all these phrases came from or possibly originated.

    Hope you had a great weekend with your Bear
    Love and hugs

    • Message In A Fold

      About the only one of the phrases that I thought, personally, would be close to the truth was the “Big Wig” one. Joe and I went to Colonial Williamsburg a long time ago before I started driving. I talked with a woman that was a wig maker. She counted out single strands of hair for a grouping and tied them on a string. Hair spray and gels of the day were a mixture of milk, honey, and rendered animal fats. The wigs, when not worn, had to placed high or the dogs would get them and lick all the stuff off tearing the wig up in the process.

      And ill behaved children were were placed in stocks in the town circle. There were three of them when we visited and that was a photo spot on the tour. If the children caused further problems they were taken from their families and were forced into servitude far from home for a period of seven years. The day we visited there was a town meeting discussing the problems of one family and their two boys aged seven and nine. The boys were not doing their chores of getting water and wood. The discussion was around the availability of farms to place the boys, which would be separated, since one the town relied on was full and two others had a place for only one more person.

      The touring children carried water with yokes and buckets. Watching them struggle under the weight was an eye opener. Not many could carry the water without spilling quite a bit of it in the process. Too much and they were sent back to the well to replenish the buckets. We also learned that the homes had two rooms. A kitchen and a large room with a table and benches. The larger room was the sleeping area as well. Clothing was hung from pegs and bathing was not a priority since people generally bathed in May. The people wore the same clothes day after day because there was, generally, one change of clothing for each person and those were “special” clothes.

      I do agree with you on the “P’s and Q’s” being from the printing press time. I have trouble with my alphabet rubber stamps. If the blocks were not marked with the proper letter I’d be using the wrong letter.

      Hope you and your Rod had a great weekend.
      Love you – Leslie

  • gardenpinks

    Now if we treated children like that these days we would be arrested and charged with abuse! How times and attitudes change.
    Usually in the large room would be a ‘shelf’ or closet in the corner where a large bed would be for most of the family, quite often close to the fireplace.
    The house I grew up in(now demolished) was a two up/two down house – that is had two rooms downstairs, a kitchen and a sitting room and two bedrooms upstairs. One bedroom contained bunk beds for two sisters and a single bed for me and the second room had a double bed for my parents and then a small bed for another sister plus a cot for the baby. The toilets were down a short lane and shared with two other households and there was a tin bath that was brought in every Friday night. There was no running hot water so all the water for the bath had to be heated in a large gas fired tub thing. This was also used during the week for boiling up the bed sheets and towels. These houses were terraced houses and a throwback from the days of when owners of factories built basic houses for the workers. Dreadful places!

    Hugs and love
    Lynn xxx

    • Message In A Fold

      Oh my goodness. I guess when you don’t know anything different you do what you have to do. Poor you having to leave a warm home or bed and walk down the street to use the facilities. Your poor little bum was probably about frozen by the time you hurried back into the warmth inside. I bet you have a few stories to tell about moving to your first home with hot and cold running water and a bathroom INSIDE your home. Girlfriend, I keep saying you’ve got GRIT.

      You know, it is quite callus of me I suppose, but I do think bringing back some of those practices might be needed now-a-days. Just down our street some thug kids set a car on fire that burned part of the mobile home also. As this fire was wrecking havoc there were three other homes and a church bus ablaze several blocks away. I have no idea why parents don’t do a better job of minding their children. And from what I’ve heard these are 12 to 15 year old kids that are causing the trouble. The really sad part is there is nothing that can be done to get their attention and make them better people.

      Love you my friend.

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