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Where Did That Saying Come From?

We say a whole lotta strange phrases on a day-to-day basis…but have you ever wondered where they originated?

I’m a self-proclaimed nerd with these things…so I have!  I’m also an answer-finder, so here’s what I tracked down!

  • Beating Around The Bush — In hunting, sometimes ya gotta stomp around on the underbrush to scare the animals out. The term originally described an unwilling hunter…who would “beat around the bush” but not actually kill anything.
  • Going Balls To The Wall — This is NOT a “dirty” saying…it means pushing yourself to the limit. It’s actually an old aviation term. The top of the levers for throttle and fuel mixtures were both shaped like a ball, and if you pushed both forward — toward the front wall of the cockpit — the plane went faster. (I’ve confirmed this with my pilot uncle…so don’t accuse me of potty mouth!)
  • Biting the Bullet — Now it means “to face up to something”, but before anesthetics were available, injured soldiers would literally bite down on a bullet to get through the pain of an amputation!
  • Getting Someone’s Goat — Originally this was a horseracing term, but now we tend to use it when you’re intentionally trying to irritate someone. Nervous horses sometimes relax a bit when you put a goat in the stall with them. But rival horse owners would steal the goat, so the horse would freak out overnight and lose the race.
  • Making the Grade — I always thought this was about school, didn’t you? Nope, it’s an old 19th century railroad term. “Grade” is short for “gradient” (incline). Engineers had to make sure trains wouldn’t encounter inclines that were too steep, so if you “made the grade” you were within safety limits.
  • Passing the Buck — Again, I thought it was about money…but it’s not. It comes from an old British card game, where a “jack knife” or “buck” was passed from player to player, to indicate whose turn it was!

But Wait! There's More!

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