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Friday, 29 July 2011

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Where words and phrases come from is a fascinating subject, full of folklore and historical lessons (continuing phrases beginning with G)

Get out of bed on the wrong side - be bad tempered, grumpy

Origin - The wrong side of the bed is the left. According to a superstition that goes back to Roman times, it is unlucky to get out of bed on the left side because that is where evil spirits dwell and to do so means their influence will then be with you through your waking hours. Naturally, if one is expecting to suffer the whim of malevolent spirits by getting out on the wrong side of a bed, they cannot be blamed for being a little grumpy.

Get the bit between one’s teeth - act without restraint

Origin - A metaphor from horsemanship. The bit is the mouthpiece of a horse’s bridle and acts on the side of the mouth in response to the pulling of the reins. If the horse gets the bit between its teeth so that the bit can no longer hurt its mouth it becomes difficult or impossible to control.

Get the sack - be dismissed from employment

Origin - Journeymen mechanics used to provide their own tools and carry them from job to job in a bag (‘get the bag’ was the earlier version of this expression). Perhaps an employer looked after the bag or sack and literally handed it back to a workman when he was dismissed.

Gilt-edged - of the highest quality and reliability

Origin - Now usually coupled with such nouns as guarantee, security, promise, etc., this term was introduced towards the end of the 19th Century to describe especially safe government securities. They were so called because the splendid certificates issued to holders of the stock were ornamented with gilt edges. The term is still a stock exchange one as well as being in more general metaphorical use.

Gird up one’s loins - prepare oneself for strenuous activity

Origin -A biblical expression for the action of tucking the end of a long robe into one’s girdle or belt so as to be able to move the legs more freely when running, working etc. To gird is to fasten by means of a girdle; the loins are that part of the body between waist and hips.

Give a wide berth - avoid; keep at a safe distance

Origin - A metaphor from seamanship. A berth is, among other things, a place where a ship is at anchor or at a wharf. A wide berth is plenty of room, especially important in former days for a ship swinging at anchor.

Give one a break - give one an opportunity

Origin – In underworld slang a break was an interruption in a street performer’s act during which he would pass round the hat for the audience to show their appreciation. The term was taken up by the criminal community and a break had come to mean a collection made for a felon on his release from prison.

 

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