Tag Archives: history

History Behind Common Sayings

Our language is evolving and new words (neologisms) are being added to the dictionary in greater numbers than ever before, and yet we continue to use sayings from long ago–their original meanings lost in the annals of history.

Here’s a few common sayings we still use today. 

Don’t kick a man when he’s down:
  • In 555 AD, a disgraced general named Belisarius was stripped of his rank, command,  and wealth on charges of crimes against Rome. If that wasn’t  bad enough ol’ Belisarius became blind and began begging. In those days, people gave beggars a swift kick when they passed—to which the once esteemed leader would reply, “Don’t kick a man when he’s down.” His frequent retort—all the more impressive when his identity was revealed—quickly spread throughout the empire. No doubt he earned more money this way, too.
damnDon’t give a damn:                                                             No, this phrase was not coined by Rhett Butler but has ancient origins. The damn is a Hindu coin that had a tendency to vary in value. When it plummeted, the Brits—who occupied India at the time—took to describing something of little worth this way.
It’s raining cats and dogs:
  • This comes from the Norse god Odin whose dog took the form of wind.  (My dog only passes wind). When Odin’s dog ( the wind) chased a cat (rain) ancient Celtic people said Odin was dropping cats and dogs from the sky.
  • Another possibility: During the Middle Ages roofs were made of straw. Dogs (used for hunting and protection) and cats ( to keep the mice population at bay) found warmth on the rooftops. A few good rainstorms—and bam! The straw was soaked through and cats and dogs were raining down.
Dog days of summer:
  • In Roman times, Sirius—the dog star—is brightest from the beginning of July until mid August AND rises with the sun!  The hot months, therefore, were attributed to the star’s brightness.
oracleLeave no stone unturned:                                                      If you were an ancient Greek and wanted an answer to an important question, you paid a visit to the Oracle at Delphi—a hotline to the gods.  One fine day, Euripides asked the Oracle where to find the treasure left by a certain general-on-the-run. The Oracle’s advice to the treasure-seeking Euripides was “to leave no stone unturned.”
Won’t hold water:
  • Those wacky Romans! They expected their Vestal virgins to remain virginal. One day, Tutia—one of the original Vestals—was accused of…well, you know. To prove her virginity, Pontifex Maximus insisted she carry a sieve ( a strainer with holes) of water from the Tiber river to the Temple. If the water escaped she would have to face a nasty punishment—being buried alive. Tutia passed the test. Whew!
african-lion-male_436_600x450The Lion’s share:                                                               This phrase comes from Aesop’s fables. Seems the lion and a bunch of his animal BFFs went hunting one fine day. When it came to share the booty, the lion, as king of the beasts, claimed the 1st, the 2nd, and 3rd parts for himself. Then the clever lion declared that anyone who wanted to dispute him for the 4th part  was  welcome to it. Nobody volunteered. Who wants to fight a lion?
 Piping hot
  • This descriptor has its roots in the bakery biz. In times of yore, the village baker blew a pipe announcing that fresh bread had just been pulled from the oven. The villagers, upon hearing the loud nose, came a runnin’ to buy the fresh loaves.
Make no bones about it
  • We’re used to having our chicken and fish de-boned, but years ago diners had to be very careful when they ate. If the hungry person de-boned their meal carefully they could dig into the pile of protein with gusto–with nary a worry about choking on a bone.
Down in the dumps
  • This history behind this saying is just too circumspect to be true. Seems an ancient Egyptian pharaoh named Dumpos died from depression. Anyone who suffered from the king’s ailments was said to have come down with Dumpos’ disease.
Hit a snag
  • A lumberjack’s term, this phrase meant the logs floating down the river were being held up by a  tree trunk (snag) stuck into the river.
panningSee how it pans out
  • From the gold-panning days of yesteryear, this expression was coined by those who hoped  gold flakes would be revealed after they shook the sand from the pan.

sailKnow the ropes
  • If a seaman didn’t the know the difference between the various ropes and rigging of a sailboat or how to handle them, he would be assigned to menial tasks. So if a sailor wanted to a better position he had to “know the ropes.”
  • Ragemane rolle is a scroll used in a medieval game of chance.
Called on the carpet:
  • When railroad was king, the big railroad bosses had elegant and luxurious  offices–you know, the kind with carpet! When a misbehaving employee did something bad, the Big Boss summoned them to their carpeted office for a scolding.
 What weird and wonderful sayings will our great great grandchildren use in a few hundred years?


Related Posts:History Of Common Sayings 2 Stupid Sayings; Vatican Vocab; Vatican Vocab 2


Mary of Nazareth

It’s  Fab Female Friday and with only several days left before Christmas, I had no choice but to write about Mary, Mother of God. Icon. Saint. Legendary Jewish mother.

Naturally, everyone knows about the biblical Mary. The woman is an icon of epic proportions. Images of her are ubiquitous, and yet Anglican, eastern Orthodox, Islamic (yes), Lutheran, Protestant, and Catholic all hold different views about her.

With that in mind, remember this as I offer a few pieces of information about the Virgin Mother. Dogma and opinions vary!

WARNING: The following is non-academic.

 For scholarly information check out the University of Dayton’s The Mary Page, which has amassed the world’s largest collection of printed material about Mary
or The New Advent Organization, Catholic Encyclopedia.

And for all you Catholics out there, don’t forget, the Pope Tweets. His handle is: @Pontifex

A few non-academic Mary facts:

  • Mary is known by many names. Here are a few: In Hebrew she is Miriam; in Arabic, Maryam. She also goes by Saint Mary, Mother Mary, Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, Bearer of God, Mother of the Church, and Our Lady.
  • She was born in the late 1st century BC and died sometime in the 1st centaury AD
  • She is identified in both the Qur’an and New Testament
  • Mary was engaged ( betrothed)  to Joseph at 12 years old ( this was typical)
  • Both Mary and Joseph were from the House of David and  from the Tribe of Judah. The genealogical aspect is fascinating.
  • The Angel Gabriel gives her the prophetic news during her betrothal.
  • Joseph is informed by an angel several months later—important, since there is no way he would have married a non-virgin.
  • Mary and Joseph complete wedding rites.
  • Elizabeth greets Mary as “the mother of my Lord.”
  • By order of Roman Emperor Augustus (Octavious- Julius Caesar’s adopted son), Joseph had to return to his home town of Bethlehem to be taxed (the Romans were tax-happy—but that’s another story).
  • Mary gave birth to Jesus at 13 yrs old and canonical gospels attest to her virginity.
  • Per Jewish law, Jesus is circumcised 8 days later.
  • A month or so later, Jesus is presented to the temple. Mary makes the traditional burnt offering for her sins and is thereby “cleansed.”
  • Months later, Wise men pay homage with their symbolic gifts The word Magi describes the Zoroastrian priests who used astrology. Note: Our word magic comes from Magi.
  • Gold is a symbol of royalty, kingship, or virtue.
  • Frankincense, an incense, is the symbol for a deity, or prayer.
  • Myrrh, an oil used to embalm, was a symbol of death, or suffering
  • The gospel of Luke mentions Mary the most—12 times. Matthew refers to her 6 times. John, twice; Mark, only once.
  • Mary is mentioned when 12 yr old Jesus stays to teach in the Jerusalem temple.
  • Mary watches her son turn water into wine.
  • She was believed to be present at her son’s crucifixion ( a favorite Roman death sentence).
  • Mary disappears  from scripture after she is mentioned  attending a meeting with the 11 apostles
  • Some  religions believe her physical body ascended to heaven after she died—her grave was found empty
  • Nobody knows exactly when she died: There are no records. If you do the math, Mary would have been 46 yrs old at the time of her son’s crucifixion. This was well past the average life expectancy of the time.

My humblest apologies if I got some information wrong.

There is a wealth of information about Mary of Nazareth. If you’re a reader of Dan Brown, you might wonder if, in fact, the Vatican secret treasure vault holds more information about this mysterious figure. Who knows?


Fab Female Friday: Julia Domna

Julia Domna: Wife. Mother. Philosopher. Political mover & shaker.

The astrologer’s prediction proved correct!

Married in her teens to a 40-something widower Roman commander named Septimus Severus—soon to become the first African Roman emperor—Julia & Septimus became a formidable “power couple.” Septimus knew Julia was the one for him when  an astrologer predicted the she would one day be queen.

All accounts say their marriage—despite the age differences–was happy and loving.

Julia, daughter of a high priest from Syria, was extremely intelligent, courageous and didn’t   take s*** from anyone. She quickly learned the art of politics, and was soon involved in all sorts of  intrigues, strategies, and political machinations. She was also an avid reader and loved to talk philosophy.


During those times, women were expected to stay home and wait for their emperor husbands while they fought wars for territorial domination–but not Julia! No way! She went with her hubby–his confidant and steadfast companion. Later on, when he did leave her  home on his campaigns,  he left Julia in charge, knowing she would manage and administer the wily affairs of state with all the smoothness of a  consummate politico.

She bore two sons—who didn’t much like each other, especially when it came time to decide who would take Dad’s place as Emperor of Rome.

In an attempt to reconcile her feuding adult sons, she begged for a meeting—minus their armed guards. The youngest son was murdered in her arms—almost certainly by hit men hired by the jealous older son.

Horrible, yes? Roman politics was ever so much nastier than politics today (well, on second thought…)Try as she might, this powerful mom could not persuade her eldest son to be a better Emperor (a petty, mean-tempered, wacko ruler), although she did her best to keep the Severo reign going.

When her Emperor son was murdered, the new Emperor exiled the still politically connected Julia. Did she go? Or no. The now frail and cancer-plagued Julia, stayed put in her home and starved herself to death. She was 47 years old.

Julia Domna: smooth operator, political  pundit, philosophical activist, and  patron of the arts!




Novel Wednesday

Myth and history collide  in my novel, The Merkabah Recruit. Often times, they are rooted and merged so deeply in ancient history and culture we can’t figure where one ends and the other begins. Add modern science to the mix and those fantastical myths are now explainable!

I’m not pushing my novel today, but just want to remind you how deeply ingrained our earliest mythology  is.

 What’s your favorite mythological creatures? Don’t know any? Sure, you do!

Here is one of my favorites.

The Harpy! Hailing back to ancient Greece, these creatures were a fusion of bird and woman—portrayed either as ugly or beautiful.

They were ravenously hungry (aren’t all women on diets?) and stole food before  fouling the area with their excrement (really hope that’s some kind of Greek metaphor).

To call a woman a “harpy” today is a total slam! Instantly a nagging, scolding, annoying ugly woman comes to mind!

I took a poll of under-thirty somethings–to my surprise they all knew what a harpy was–although they claimed they hated Greek mythology in high school and–even more surprising–laughed or snickered  when they heard the word used to describe a woman.

Which is the worse insult? Biddy or harpy?