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Pattaya Daily News

15 February 2010 :: 15:02:03 pm 13331

Expressions: Where Did They Originate?

There is quite a bit of conflict about the origins of some of these sayings, and I am sure some one out there will come forward with a few alternatives of their own.
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In days of old, animal skins were tanned with the use of urine so families used to pee in a pot, selling it on to the tannery. If a person had to do this to survive, it meant they were ‘Piss Poor’, but worse than this, if the family was so poor that they could not afford a pot to pee in, then they were known as ‘The lowest of the low’. 

Most people married in June because they took their yearly bath in May so still smelt okay by June. However, since it was a month since their bath, the brides carried a bouquet of highly scented flowers to mask any smells of body odour hence the reason for the bride’s bouquet on the wedding day.
Baths consisted of a big tin tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the first bath, then all the other men and sons, then the women and finally the children.  Last of all would be the babies. By then the bath water would be that dirty you could actually lose someone in it, hence the saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’.
Houses had thatched roofs with thick layers of straw and no wood under it. It was the only place for cats, dogs and other small animals (bugs and mice) to keep warm.  When it rained the roof became slippery and the animals would fall out, hence the saying, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs”.
There was nothing to stop things like bugs falling from the roof into the house especially in the bedrooms where bugs and droppings landed on the bed causing real problems, hence a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top to offer some protection and this is how the ‘Canopy’ came about.
The wealthy had slate floors which became very slippery when wet, so threshed straw would be laid to enable people to keep their footing. As winter wore on, more straw would be added until it was so high when the door was opened, the straw would start slipping outside the so a piece of wood was placed in the doorway, hence the word ‘Thresh Hold’.
In those days, people cooked in the kitchen with a large pot that always hung over the fire. Every day the fire was lit and things would be continuously added to the pot. Vegetables were the most popular items used as meat was not readily available. The stew would be eaten leaving any leftovers in the pot over night to cool. The following day the same pot would be re heated with more vegetables added with some of the food  having been there for days, hence the rhyme; ‘Peas Pudding Hot, Peas Pudding Cold, Peas Pudding in the Pot Nine Days Old’.


Some days, pork would be available which made the family feel quite special, so when any visitors came over, the bacon would be hung to show it off. This was a sign of wealth showing that a man could ‘Bring Home the Bacon’. Little pieces of bacon would be cut of to share with guests and all would sit and ‘Chew the Fat’.
Those with money would use plates made of pewter, but foods with high acid contents would erode the pewter, causing the lead to seep onto the food causing lead poisoning which resulted in death. This happen so often and mostly with tomatoes, that for the following 400 years or so tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family had the middle and guests the top, and hence ‘Upper Crust’ came to be.
Lead cups were used for drinking whiskey or ale. The combination of alcohol and lead would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days so for any one finding him; they would be considered dead and prepared for burial. The person would then be laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather round eating and drinking whilst waiting to see if he would wake up, so this is how the term ‘Holding a Wake’ came about. 
England being old and small, the local folks started running out of places to bury their dead so they would dig up the graves and take the bones to a bone house and re use the grave. When reopening the coffins, 1 out of 25 was found to have scratch marks on the inside. Realising people were being buried alive, a piece of string was then tied to the wrist of the ‘corps’ and led through the coffin up through the ground and a bell tied to the other end. Some one would have to sit out in the grave yard all night ‘The Graveyard Shift’ to listen for the bell, thus ‘Saved By The Bell’ or a ‘Dead Ringer.’

Patty Brown

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