Friday, 5 January 2018

Where Did That Come From? Some B Words

Bite the bullet – some controversy over where this phrase originated – but agreement that it means doing something you don't want to do but which is unavoidable – displaying a stiff upper lip – so to say. One theory is that the phrase relates to an early practice of putting a bullet over the top of an aching tooth to protect it – doesn't seem to fit with the accepted meaning.  Another is that surgical patients were asked to bite on a bullet during procedures done in the days before anaesthetics – which is a tad more likely – but didn't they usually bite on a leather strap??

Break the ice – from the late 17th C this phrase has been used to mean taking steps to get people relaxed in awkward social situations.  The original idea came from ships that broke through ice to allow other ships to pass through.

Butter someone up – Well, we all know this means to flatter someone to curry favour in the hope of gaining something.  But why butter?  It isn't clear – several theories – but the one I found striking was that in ancient India people would throw pats of butter at statues of gods to ask for a favour.  This sounds a bit esoteric, maybe it just refers to the way that buttering bread makes it smooth and slippery – greasing the wheels, as  it were

Bury the hatchet – so when you are in conflict with someone and then decide to let bygones be bygones you can be said to bury the hatchet.  This is meant to be an American saying – although I have been aware of it forever here on the other side of the world.  Apparently peace would be marked with a ceremony of burying hatchets in the ground – as between a tribe and the settlers.

Bob's your uncle – this one has a British (and Commonwealth) origin.   It is used at the end of a sentence such as – so you just put the coin in the slot and turn and Bob's your uncle – ie that's it or that's all it takes. Why Bob?  Why your uncle?  The origins of this remain swathed in mystery.

1 comment:

Your comments are most welcome. Cheers