I love popular sayings, which are all-too-often disrespected as clichés. And like you (I’m guessing), I’ve often wondered where some of them came from. Check out the Care2 slideshow when you have a minute. In the meantime, here’s a preview from the site:
1. “Motley Crew.”
Meaning: A group of misbehaving ne’er-do-wells.
Background: Motley was once a type of fabric, and, eventually, the type of clothing made from the cloth. The most famous motley wearers in the 16th century were court jesters, and the multi-colored, patchwork fabric eventually became a go-to style for stage performers. Groups of these performers eventually became known as “motley crews.”
2. “Read the Riot Act.”
Meaning: To reprimand and warn those misbehaving.
Background: There actually was a real, actual, written riot act. 18th century English magistrates could read it to any group of more than 12 people that were, well, not behaving so well. If they didn’t disperse within an hour, they would be arrested. Luckily, today reading the “riot act” doesn’t come with the same punishments as it once did!
3. “In a Pickle.”
Meaning: In a difficult situation.
Background: “How camest thou in this pickle?” Yep, none other than William Shakespeare came up with this delightful little phrase! Shakespeare was alluding to the fact that the vegetables in pickles were disoriented and mixed-up, just like it is to be in trouble.
Here’s a question: Have you heard popular sayings or expressions misused or fractured in some odd way? My favorite is “We need to flush this out.” The correct expression, of course, is “flesh this out,” as in adding some meat to the bones of a concept or perhaps creating a document from an outline. A copywriter colleague of mine recently commented that he’d been editing such poorly written stuff that he was tempted to “flush” it.