The grim origins of our everyday sayings

PR specialists need to have a good command of the English language and will often use some of our favourite phrases to liven up our articles, press releases or case studies. So, it was with much interest in the office that thanks to research from family history website Genes Reunited that we discovered the real and mostly quite grim meanings of some of our best loved sayings:

Pull someone’s leg: A method used by thieves to entrap their victims before robbing them. One thief would be assigned ‘tripper-up’ duty, and would use different instruments to knock the person to the ground.

Gone to pot: This phrase derives from when boiling to death was a legal punishment. Some believe that it evolved into a 17th Century euphemism for those who had fallen victim to cannibals.

Deadline:  A line that was drawn to stop prisoners escaping in the American Civil War – they would be shot in the head if the crossed it.

Bite the bullet: Before anaesthetic became available, injured soldiers had to go through operations with just a drop of Rum and clenching a bullet between the teeth to help cope with the pain.

To haul someone over the coals:  In the middle-ages, anyone accused of witchcraft would be dragged over red hot coals and if they survived they were declared innocent.

And finally, rule of thumb: this saying comes from a violent way to settle disputes at home! Apparently in 1886, Sir Francis Buller ruled that a man was entitled to beat his wife with a stick, provided it was no thicker than his thumb! That’s ok then……..

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