On the Beat

Old sayings … say what?

 By Jim Bucher

Many a quick wit was the norm in my family from Mom, Dad, uncles and aunts. There always seemed to be a wisecrack or four in the conversation. Guess that’s where I get it. But what was perplexing is those old sayings and where they came from. Most were meant as some sort of advice, but for the life of me, many made no sense.

For instance, “The apple of my eye” well, this is from the Bible, in Psalm 17:8 the writer asks God to “keep me as the apple of your eye.”

“Beat around the bush” – when hunting birds, some people would beat around the bush to drive them out in the open. Other people would then catch the birds. “I won’t beat around the bush” came to mean, “I will go straight to the point without delay.” I’m told this is how Colonel Sanders caught his chickens – just sayin’. (Also, I tend to beat around the bush when my column is late and incur the wrath of Kyle, my editor here at the paper.)

“Make a beeline” – in the past, people believed that bees flew in a straight line to their hive. So, if you made a beeline for something, you went straight for it.

Aren’t these amazing?

How about, “The Big Wigs” are in town? Well, in the 18th century when many men wore wigs, the most important men wore the biggest ones. Hence, today important people are called Big Wigs. (This is why my wig is teeny, weeny.)

“Bite the bullet” basically means to grin and bear it, you know like reading one of my articles. (Hey, who wrote that?!?)

Here’s a good one – “Whipping Boy.” Prince Edward, later Edward VI, had a boy who was whipped in his place every time he was naughty. (This is what happens to me when I am late and incur the wrath of above said editor Kyle.)

How about, “Turn over a new leaf?” If you think it has something to do with trees, think again. Actually, it means to make a fresh start – turn the leaf of a page in a book.

“Mad as a Hatter” did not originate from “Alice in Wonderland,” but rather in the 18th and 19th centuries, hat makers treated hats with mercury. Inhaling mercury vapor could cause mental illness. (To answer the question that just popped in your head: No, I don’t own any hats.)

Oh, here’s a good one – “kick the bucket.” A noose is tied around the neck of a person while standing on an overturned bucket and when the bucket is kicked away, the victim is hanged. (Where is this article going?)

What about the origin of “go to pot?” Well, when a farm animal had outlived its usefulness, such as a hen that no longer laid eggs, it would eventually go to pot to be cooked and eaten. (I wonder how many times Colonel Sanders used this term.)

“Flash in the pan” – muskets had a priming pan, which was filled with gunpowder. When flint hit steel, it ignited the powder in the pan, which in turn ignited the main charge of gunpowder and fired the musket ball. However, sometimes the powder in the pan failed to light the main charge. In that case, you had a flash in the pan.

“What the Dickens?!” This old saying does not come from the writer Charles Dickens – it is much older than he. Originally, the name “Dickens” was another name for the Devil. “He has the Dickens in him,” My dad said that a lot about my brother – never me.

And, how appropriate, because that leads us into “cock and bull story,” which means a story that stretches the truth a bit (see last comment).

“Born with a silver spoon in your mouth” – once, when a child was christened it was traditional for the godparents to give a silver spoon as a gift if they could afford it. However, a child born in a rich family did not have to wait. He or she had it all from the start. They were “born with a silver spoon in their mouth.”

“Bites the dust” – this phrase comes from a translation of the epic Ancient Greek poem the Iliad about the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. It was poetic way of describing the death of a warrior. Who knew?

This one is funny: “Crocodile tears” – these are an insincere display of grief or sadness. It comes from the old belief that a crocodile wept (insincerely) if it killed and ate a man.

“From the horse’s mouth” was always one of my favorites. You can tell a horse’s age by examining its teeth. A horse dealer may lie to you, but you can always find out the truth “from the horse’s mouth.”

Finally, “cut and run” – in an emergency, rather than haul up an anchor the sailors would cut the anchor cable then run with the wind.

And, from the “horse’s mouth” it is time to “cut and run,” or I’m a “monkey’s uncle.”

Better “quit while I’m ahead.”

See ya’ next week.




The views and opinions expressed in On the Beat are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes only.


For more than 25 years, “Buch”  has been a local television icon. Known and loved by thousands in the Miami Valley, his followers describe him as trust-worthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and a role model. When it comes to promoting your business, Buch has the ability to grab your customer’s attention. Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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