Idioms of unknown or rarely mentioned origins dominate our everyday speech. From a young age, we are taught that a watched pot never boils, that few things are a piece of cake, you shouldn't bark up the wrong tree, and that a fool and his money are soon parted. You may occasionally find yourself between a rock and a hard place, that you'll often come close but no cigar, and that sometimes other people will burst your bubble.
Many times, these phrases make no sense in context, yet for some reason, we all have a general sense of what they mean. Rarely is someone literally talking about getting the short end of the stick or that they killed two birds with one stone. The former seems silly, while the latter sounds like animal cruelty.
When taking this quiz, don't make a mountain out of a molehill or make a scene. None of these questions are out of left field. If you know that this quiz is about common phrases, then we're on the same page.
Are you ready to swing for the fences or will you throw in the towel? Will you find that you're taking some shots in the dark with your guesses?
William Shakespeare coined "the world is someone's oyster." It first appeared in "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The humorous derivation, "the world is one's lobster," was first said on the British TV show, "Minder."
Etymologists do not know the origins of "take the bull by the horns," which is sometimes said as "grab the bull by the horns." However, there are two theories: it originated with bullfighters or the American Old West. Both theories involve a man controlling a bull by literally "taking it by the horns."
While the concept of reinventing the wheel isn't new, the phrase was coined in the 1970s. At the time, it was popular as a business and advertising metaphor for describing someone wasting time finding a solution for a problem that has already been solved.
The idea behind it "takes money to make money" is that you need money to make investments. If you invest wisely, you will see a return on your investment.
"Two heads are better than one" was first recorded in 1546. John Heywood used it in "A dialogue conteinyng to nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue."
The phrase "good things come to those who wait" has been used in Guinness and Heinz commercials. The gist of the phrase is that patience is a virtue.
No one knows the origin of "cross a bridge until you come to it." However, the earliest known usage is from Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's "The Golden Legend." In 1951, Longfellow wrote, “Don't cross the bridge till you come to it, is a proverb old and of excellent wit.”
While the general consensus is that "never put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is about avoiding procrastination, no one knows who coined the phrase. it has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin among others. However, there is not enough support that any of these men created the phrase.
Oscar Wilde said, "With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone." He also said, "I am not young enough to know everything."
The origins of "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" are unclear. However, it has been traced to "Teacher's Manual" by Thomas H. Palmer and "The Children of the New Forest" by Frederick Maryat.
"Don't judge a book by its cover" originated in the mid-1800s. The first known usage was in a June 1867 issue of the newspaper, Piqua Democrat.
Variations of the phrase, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," exist in German and Russian. Other phrases with a similar meaning are "chip off the old block" and "like father, like son."
The phrase, "can't hold a candle," was first used in the 1600s. The earliest known use is from 1641. Sir Edward Dering wrote in "The fower cardinal-vertues of a Carmelite fryar," "Though I be not worthy to hold the candle to Aristotle."
"Cut to the chase" comes from the tendency for early silent films to end in chase scenes. Prior to the invention of film, the phrase was "cut to Hecuba," which is a reference to Hamlet and the practice of cutting long speeches before that scene.
While "break the ice" is commonly attributed to 19th century ice breaking ships, it actually predates the practice. In 1678, poet Samuel Butler wrote, "To give himself a first audience, After he had a while look'd wise, At last broken silence, and the ice."
"To butter someone up" means to impress them with flattery. One origin story is that in ancient India people would throw butter balls at statues of their gods. The belief was that, in return, the gods would favor the devout and forgive them.
While some theories on "cat got your tongue" suggest it has origins in sailing and the cat o' nine tails, nothing suggests its true. The first known instance of the phrase in print was in an 1881 issue of "Ballou's Monthly Magazine." However, its appearance in "Ballou's Monthly Magazine" implies that kids were saying it before it entered adult language.
"That's the way the cookie crumbles" means that you must accept that something bad has happened. It has been used since the 1950s.
Another saying says that money can't buy love. The general meaning behind these similar phrases is that money can buy material things, but money has no influence over your feelings.
The low man on the totem pole is the least important person in an organization. If someone is increasing in stature, they are said to be climbing the ladder.
If you open a can of worms, you create a problem for yourself. When you "open a can of worms," your actions create negative consequences.
"All bark and no bite" first appeared in print in the newspaper, "The Banner." The newspaper published, "You see he was all bark and no bite. Well, it is the same with men and women, and boys and girls, as it is with dogs."
Frederick Marryat was the first person to write "bull in a china shop." It appeared in his novel, "Jacob Faithful." Its origins before there have not been discovered.
The phrase "when pigs fly" is sometimes used as "pigs might fly." "When pigs fly" has been in use since the 1600s.
The earliest known usage of "letting the cat out of the bag" is from 1760. It appeared in an issue of "London Magazine."
"Under the weather" comes from old-time sailors. In "Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expression," Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey say that the full phrase is "under the weather bow." The weather bow is the side of the ship the bad weather affects the most.
In the 1800s, people started using the phrase, "once in a blue moon." A blue moon is said to be the second appearance of a full moon in a month. This occurs approximately once every 32 months.
Rudyard Kipling was the first person to write down the phrase, "bite the bullet." He used it in "The Light that Failed," which was published in 1891.
Instead of "wrap your head around," you can say "wrap your mind around." If you successfully "wrap your head around" something, it means you understand something that is confusing or challenging.
"Miss the boat" can mean to fail to take advantage of an opportunity or to not understand something. Other boat-related idioms are "in the same boat" and "rock the boat."
The full form of "speak of the devil" is "speak of the devil and he will appear" or some variations thereof. It has been in use since the 1600s.
By "twisting one's arm," you are coercing someone to do something. The term first appeared in the mid-1900s.
Someone who stabs you in the back is engaging in backstabbing. Backstabbing entered English in the mid-1800s.
The phrase "cold turkey" first appeared in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, it was specifically associated with quitting something addictive.
Someone with sticky fingers has the tendency to steal. Its origins date to the late 1800s.