Oddities and old sayings of the English language

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The English language has many old sayings, which are still used in everyday life. I wonder if other languages have similar quirks?

Here’s a few examples. For instance, do you know why people who were very poor were called “dirt poor”? Well, they were called this because they had earth floors in their homes.

Poor people in years gone by would sell there urine to the local tannery to be used for curing leather. They would carry this to the tannery in a pot. If someone was even poorer than these unfortunate souls and they couldn’t even afford a pot they were described as that poor they don’t even have a pot to pee in!

Where did the name for an entrance to a home, “threshold” come from? Simples, poor people, richer than the “dirt poor” though, covered their floors with “thresh”, a piece of wood was nailed at the bottom of the door frame to stop the “thresh” spilling out... hence “threshold”.

Many homes had thatched roofs, which became a comfy bed for the local cats and dogs. However, when it rained heavily the thatch became slippery and the animals would slide off. Raining cats and dogs?

Now, death! A “wake” was literally that. Medical expertise wasn’t what it is these days and sometimes people were buried alive by mistake, only to come around to find themselves in a coffin.

So the “dead” were laid out for a period just in case they came around, or woke up. There you have it, “a wake”.

But what if they were buried alive, which happened more than we realise. Exhumed old coffins regularly had scratch marks on the inside. So some sage decided to fit a tube down to coffins, inside this a rope and at the top a bell. If the “deceased” did come around they would ring the bell. When someone was identified as looking very much like someone else they were said to be a “dead ringer”. In other words, reincarnated, of sorts.

Frank Sidney

Sheffield