The Story Behind Some Of The English Idioms

Have you ever pondered over the fact that from where some ever-present English idioms originated from in the language? Thankfully we’ve thoroughly researched the interesting origins of some of the common English idioms and traced back their fascinating and sometimes bizarre history. Some of them are hellishly bizarre trust us on this one!

 English Idioms


“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”

Definition: Literally, always being a bridesmaid and never a bride. More figuratively, it is a forlorn saying for women when they can’t find love.

Origin: This masterpiece of an English idiom was first mentioned in a Victorian music hall tune, “Why Am I Always A Bridesmaid?”, by Fred W. Leigh. However, the phrase garnered limelight only after a retrospectively hilarious ad for Listerine mouthwash in 1924. The tagline, “Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride”, along with a picture of a forlorn ‘Edna’, who, because of her halitosis (bad breath), never got married. The solution: buying Listerine mouthwash in bulk.

“Pull someone’s leg”

Definition: Joking or fooling with someone.

Origin: To pull someone’s leg had much more sinister overtones when it first came in use. It was initially a comical method used by thieves to trick their pedestrians followed by robbing them of their essentials. One thief would be given the task of being the ‘tripper up’ and would use different instruments to knockout the person to the ground. Luckily, nowadays the saying is much friendlier, though being in the center of a joke might not always turn out to be fun, especially when such English idioms are thrown at you.

 English Idioms


“Meeting a deadline”

Definition: To finish something by a predetermined time.

Origin: This saying apparently stems from the prison camps during the Civil War, where a line was drawn to demarcate the boundaries for the prisoners. The line started to be referred as a deadline because any prisoner who tried to cross it was shot. Well, talk about jail nowadays.

“Basket Case”

Definition: Someone who is unhinged.

Origin: According to undetermined reports, WW1 soldiers who had lost all their limbs were carried around in baskets. The original saying, ‘basket case’, however, was founded by the US military – in denial of this process – after WW1. In 1919, a bulletin was issued by the U.S. Command on Public Information, making use of the phrase: “The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been rounded about … of the very presence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.”

 English Idioms


“Close, but no cigar”

Definition: Being near success, but just missing out.

Origin: Once upon a time, fairground stalls favored gifting cigars to winners rather than overstuffed, over-sized plush toys. Needless to say, winning was nearly impossible at the rigged carnival games and thus the English idiom was born. The first evidence of the saying comes from a film script for Annie Oakley in 1935, after which it was frequently used in newspaper articles.

“Bust your balls”

Definition: A slang saying which is used to indicate towards working hard.

Origin: Whether you believe it or not, the term actually comes from literally busting the balls of a calf. Rather than removing them off or chemically sterilizing them, a bizarre way was originated to literally break a calf’s testicles to turn them from a bull to a steer. Thankfully, the humans only use its figurative version. Don’t worry the topic is still English idioms.

 English Idioms


“Bark up the wrong tree”

Definition: To make the incorrect choice or pursue the wrong way of course.

Origin: The hunting of racoons for their thick fur was a very popular chore in those days, hunting dogs were used to sniff them out of trees. Being a nocturnal animal, the hunting party had to work at night, and the dogs would sometimes end up choosing the wrong tree, or as the English idiom goes, ‘bark up the wrong tree”. The term was first printed in a book by Davy Crockett in 1833.

Do you know any story about any other English idiom? Don’t forget to share it with us below in the comments!