Commonly used idioms and phrases with meaning and origin

Language is really fun to read. For everything you read, you can always find something to encounter, something to agree and something to question on its origin.

It is always interesting and you can never go wrong with doing research.

There are a lot of idioms and words out there that have interesting meanings and origins. Ever wonder how that word or phrase came into existence .Etymology is a fascinating subject and one we will probably write about many times.

Common idioms & phrases and their origin

An idiom is a word or, more commonly, a phrase in which the figurative meaning is different than the literal meaning of the grouping of words. There are approximately 25,000 idioms in the English language alone.

We use some of these phrases every day and yet many of us don’t know how these same phrases originated. It’s very interesting to learn the origins behind the phrases and how they came into existence. As you learn about idioms, you also learn about culture, as idioms are usually derived from local culture and customs in each individual language.

So, here are some idioms and phrases with their meaning and origin

1.Loophole-As an idiom, a loophole is defined as a way of getting out of something or escaping a difficulty, especially finding a legal technicality that allows someone to evade compliance.

Origin:- A loophole, in the middle ages, was a small slit like opening in a castle wall that men would fire their bows or, later, muskateers, through.

Thus, a loophole is a small opening, or “out,” in a seemingly airtight law, which only the clever few can use.

2. Red tape– This is a very common idiom. We use the term “red tape” to denote anything that may delay or hold us up, whatever the process may be. It also refers to a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy or paperwork.

Origin: – This term originated from the fact that legal and official documents were tied up or bound with red tape since the 16th century. By doing so, it was often difficult to access them. Hence, the term “red tape.”

 3. Piece of Cake-We’ve all heard this one. When someone says, “Oh, that’s a piece of cake!” we know it signifies something that is easy, managed with no difficulties, we can do it with our eyes closed. 

    Origin: – The first reference to this was in the 1930’s, when American poet Ogden Nash, who wrote Primrose Path, was quoted as saying, “Life’s a piece of cake.” This sweet idiom has stuck around ever since.

4.‘It’s Raining Cats and Dogs’– This one is interesting! There are a lot of things I have seen falling from the sky, but cats and dogs are not one of them.

Origin-When it rained really hard, some of the animals would slip off the roof and wash up in the gutters on the street. Hence, the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs” ended up referring to a heavy rain.

5.Minding your P’s and Q’s-This is a term that has come to signify that you are taking care, watching what you are doing, getting it right

Origin-This one origins when owners had to pay attention who was drinking pints, and who was drinking quarts, thus, the term came to be known, “minding your p’s and q’s.”

 6.An Arm and a leg– “That’s going to cost you an arm and a leg!”

This is a common phrase that means simply it’s going to cost to the point of sacrifice. It’s going to hurt. The price is high.

Origin- This is a rather interesting fact, but if you notice old pictures, you will notice the paintings are of faces, or perhaps a person with one arm behind their back, or both arms. If they wanted a cheaper painting, then it would “cost them an arm and a leg.” Artists knew it took more time and effort since arms, hands and legs were more difficult to paint.

7.Mind you bee’s wax– This one simply means mind your own business but has a more defined origin. Well, let’s see

Origin- in the early days before there was Stridex and Clearasil or other beauty products, the ladies would use bee’s wax to smooth their complexion where they had acne. If a lady looked too long or stared at another lady’s face, they would say, “Mind your own bee’s wax!” If the woman were to smile, it might crack the veneer of bee’s wax on her face, thus the phrase, “crack a smile.”


8. GossipGossip is a single word defined as something that is said between two or more people, usually in a derogatory nature, about someone else. Gossip is just one word, but it actually is derived from more than one word.

Origin-Before TV, phones, and other media, politicians of old had to depend on feedback to find out what was important to people in their jurisdiction. They did this by sending their assistants out to the local taverns and pubs, where most of the people hung out, what was on people’s minds and what their concerns were.

9. Straight from horse’s mouth– When we hear someone say, “I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth,” we know what they mean. It’s truth.

Origin-The truth is, horses have always been a prized commodity down through the ages. There were a lot of dishonest people who would try to sell less than quality horses to potential buyers. They would also lie about a horse’s age. However, anyone who knew anything about horses knew that you could tell the age by examining the size and shape of the teeth, literally getting the truth straight from the horse’s mouth. This is how the phrase later came to mean getting the literal truth.

10.Heard it through a Grapevine-This phrase has come to reference something that is heard, unofficially, or indirectly.

Origin-This phrase originated at the turn of the century when the telegraph was getting off the ground. Important information was transmitted across country using the telegraph system. The system required thousands of miles of wire to be installed, and this wire was held in place several feet above the ground with poles at equal intervals. People thought the wires and poles looked like the strings used to train vines so the telegraph lines became known as “the grapevine”.

One thing is for sure –There is an amazing world of words all around us. So if you have an interesting phrase or word you want to know the origin of, look it up, and learn something new!


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3 thoughts on “Commonly used idioms and phrases with meaning and origin

  1. idiom no.5, I think, requires more elaboration, the meaning is clear, but the origin does not seem linked to its meaning.

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