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The Real Meaning Behind the Weird Phrases You Say

Man, American English can be silly sometimes.

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    "Go bananas"

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    "Toot your own horn"

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    "Sit tight"

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    "Up in the air"

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    "Get the hell out of dodge"

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    "Off the wagon"

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    "Like white on rice"

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    "Say uncle"

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    "Talking a blue streak"

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    "Mind your own beeswax"

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    "Bloom is off the rose"

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    "Go pound salt"

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    "Close but no cigar"

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    "Sweating bullets"

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    "Wet blanket"

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    "Cat out of the bag"

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    "Bite the dust"

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    "Hair of the dog"

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    "When pigs fly"

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    "Break a leg"

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    "Heard it through the grapevine"

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    "Go cold turkey"

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  • Monkeys may be our genetic brethren, but they act a little crazier than humans do. Hence the phrase "go ape," which some linguists believe led to "go bananas," as they are stereotypically the favorite snack of apes.

  • Back in the sixteenth century, the arrival of a VIP into town was signaled by the trumpeting of horns. If a person blows their own horns (or toots them), it's still seen as being proud or arrogant.

  • This phrase's history doesn't seem to be all that complicated: A person who is sitting literally tightly will be unmoved. If someone asks you to sit tight, they want you to take no further action until told otherwise.

  • This phrase is particularly poetic: If something's up in the air, it's floating around, or not settled. Apparently, English speakers said just "in the air" until the 1800s or so.

  • Yes, Dodge City is a real place in Kansas. The phrase is brand-new, relatively speaking. "Get the hell out of Dodge!" was a command thrown at villains on the TV and radio series Gunsmoke.

  • There are several theories behind the expressions of being on or off the wagon — that is, when an alcoholic is abstaining from or indulging again in drinking. One idea is that water wagons carried supplies to citizens during Prohibition, so if you were drinking just water you were on the wagon.

  • If you're encouraged to stay right on top of something — a task or responsibility — you might be as close to it as white is on rice; that is to say, inseparable. Yeah, it's a little bizarre but so is a lot of the English language!

  • Your opponent may ask you to say or cry "Uncle!" as a means of surrender. It's a particularly inexplicable phrase, and it may trace its origins way, way back — like back to the Roman empire, when it's believed that children cried out for their patruus to help them when being bullied.

  • To talk a blue streak means to talk with speed and energy, and some linguists believe that the colorful phrase was inspired by lightning, that rapid blue streak through the sky.

  • This phrase has some folklore in its history: It's believed that pioneer ladies created their candles by dipping wax in their own individual cauldrons or pots. If you didn't mind your own, you might get burned.

  • If the bloom is off the rose, the exciting freshness of the flower opening has faded away. It's a pretty easy metaphor for a person or ida that isn't as alluring as it once was.

  • Similar to other idioms like "bug off" or "go fly a kite," this particular command is believed to have roots in the salt mines, when pounding salt was the most unpleasant task available.

  • Legend for this one says that American fairgrounds and carnivals used to hand out cigars for prizes if you tried your hand at a game. If you almost won, you were close, but didn't get a cigar.

  • To sweat bullets is to sweat profusely, with giant drops, but the phrase's origin may be more complicated than the drops resembling bullets. The Word Detective believes the expression evolved from "sweating blood," which refers back to Jesus' fateful walk in the Bible.

  • The idea of a wet blanket isn't very comforting, is it? A wet blanket is a great tool for putting out a fire, thus you have the phrase for someone who ruins all the fun.

  • The origin story behind this one is particularly silly: Merchants used to sell piglets off to farms in bags. If they were swindling their customers, though, they might stick a cat in there instead — the cheaper, more common animal. They wouldn't find out until the cat was out of the bag.

  • Here's another pleasant visual: Someone falls forward in death, and their shocked, open mouth eats the dirt (or bites the dust) when they hit the ground. That seems to be the origin of this phrase, which appeared as "licking the dust" in the Bible.

  • More than just a popular name for a pub, hair of the dog is one of the oldest idioms known to man. Some linguists say that ancient Middle Eastern texts make references to sticking dog hair to one's forehead to quell a hangover.

  • There are many English variations of phrases that convey how unlikely something is to occur — see also "when hell freezes over" — but the flying oinkers were mentioned in texts at least as far back as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

  • To wish someone good luck immediately before a performance would be too easy, or so believe a long tradition of actors and dancers — the phrase was used in English throughout the twentieth century. To break the superstition, people started hoping that the worst thing would happen instead.

  • If you hear a bit of information through the grapevine, that suggests that it was via gossip, exchanged from person to person. That exchange is similar to a grapevine: twisted, overlapping, and occasionally sticky.

  • To quit something cold turkey means to stop using it abruptly and completely. Most experts believe that the phrase comes from the goosebumped flesh that addicts get when they are going through withdrawal, which is similar to that of a cold turkey.