17 Popular English Sayings That Don’t Seem To Make Sense

Mitch
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Found yourself wondering why we’d say, “it’s raining cats and dogs” when there’s no whisker or a wagging tail in sight? Well, brace yourselves because we’re about to scrutinize 17 popular English sayings that when taken at face value, you’re left scratching your head, thinking, “Wait, what?”

Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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“Doesn’t cut the mustard” is one of those peculiar phrases that leaves you wondering how condiments got involved in our performance evaluation. The phrase is traditionally used to indicate that something or someone fails to meet expectations or standards.

Contrary to what one might think, this saying has nothing to do with your favorite sandwich spread. Its origins are somewhat debated, but many believe it came from the old English word ‘muster,’ meaning ‘to show, reveal.’

Get Your Ducks in a Row

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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This whimsical phrase simply means to get one’s affairs in order or to organize oneself. The imagery of the saying may have been inspired by how a mother duck leads her fluffy offspring in a neat line, which is quite an endearing sight.

So, the next time someone tells you to get your ducks in a row, simply smile, nod, and interpret it as a friendly nudge to add more order to your chaotic world.

Yellow Bellied

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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Based on the literal meaning, you might wonder who’s been examining the belly colors of others! In reality, calling someone a “yellow-belly” doesn’t mean they’ve been overeating corn or sporting a canary-colored swimsuit.

This phrase originated in the 19th century and is used to label someone as cowardly or easily scared. The origin of this phrase is uncertain, but it’s often attributed to the yellow-bellied sapsucker bird, known for its timid nature.

Close But No Cigar

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you have to start puffing away to win at life. This phrase originated from the old carnival games, where winners were given cigars as prizes. If you were close to winning but didn’t quite hit the mark, the game runner might say, “Close, but no cigar,” indicating a near miss.

So, next time you narrowly miss your goal, remember you were probably closer to a metaphorical cigar than you think!

Break a Leg

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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You’d think that wishing someone to fracture their femur would be a tad inconsiderate, right? However, in the quirky and superstitious theater realm, it’s the standard form to wish performers good luck before stepping onto the stage.

It’s believed that this odd phrase originated from the idea of bending the leg at the knee, a common movement actors make during a performance. So, the next time you hear someone say, “break a leg,” don’t panic; they’re probably just wishing you success.

Dog Days of Summer

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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This phrase actually originates from ancient Greek and Roman times. The “dog days” refer to the period when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises at the same time as the sun, typically from July 3 to August 11.

It was believed this celestial event was the cause of the sweltering heat during this period. So, when you hear “dog days of summer,” remember it’s not about Fido taking a sunbath, but a starry explanation for those extra toasty summer days!

Water Under the Bridge

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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Now, you might think we’re talking about a scenic river flowing peacefully under a quaint stone bridge, but hold your horses! In the land of English idioms, this phrase has nothing to do with actual water or bridges.

Instead, it’s a way of saying that past conflicts or problems are exactly that – in the past. It’s like water that has already flowed under the bridge and can’t be brought back.

Sweat Like a Pig

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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No, it’s not about porcine perspiration, as pigs don’t sweat much! So, how did this odd expression come into being? It’s believed to have originated from the process of smelting pig iron. When the iron was hot and ready to pour, it would ‘sweat’ as the moisture in the sand mold evaporated.

So, the next time you’re huffing, puffing, and perspiring after a grueling workout, remember, you’re not sweating like a literal pig; you’re sweating like a hunk of molten iron!

The Proof Is in the Pudding

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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This saying, likely to cause a raised eyebrow or two, is as English as it gets. But before you start rummaging your fridge for some pudding to find a hidden message, let’s clear up what it really means.

In its full form, the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which means the quality or success of something can only be judged when it’s put to use or tested. Next time you’re faced with a challenge, remember it’s like a metaphorical pudding waiting to be tasted!

As Pure as the Driven Snow

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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This phrase paints a vividly white, untainted image like a fresh blanket of undisturbed snow. Originating from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” this idiom describes a person or object of immaculate purity or integrity.

Yet, if you’ve ever seen city snow a few days after a storm – grey, slushy, and anything but pure – you might wonder why we’re comparing purity to snow at all. It’s just another quirk that leaves you scratching your head and appreciating the beauty of fresh snowfall!

Low Man on the Totem Pole

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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Now, you’d be forgiven for visualizing a towering totem pole and sympathizing with the poor chap stuck at the bottom, seemingly insignificant. The phrase is often used to describe someone with the least power or influence within a group or organization.

But here’s an unexpected twist for you – in many Native American traditions, the figure at the base of the totem pole is the most respected, as it carries the weight of all the others. So, next time you’re the ‘low man on the totem pole,’ remember, you’re holding it all together!

Blow Your Socks Off

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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It doesn’t involve any wind gusts capable of stripping you of your hosiery, nor is it a weird laundry tip. In fact, this phrase is a lively idiom used to describe something enormously impressive or surprising.

So, if you’re wearing socks while experiencing something astounding, prepare for a metaphorical gust of awe. For example, a 3D movie with mind-boggling special effects might just “blow your socks off.” Don’t worry, though. No socks were harmed in the making of this idiom!

Bite the Bullet

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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No, it doesn’t suggest a strange new diet fad involving rounds of ammunition. It’s a phrase that harkens back to the days before anesthesia when soldiers would literally bite on a bullet during surgeries to bear the pain.

Today, the term is used metaphorically to convey the act of confronting an unavoidable but unpleasant situation with courage. If you find yourself procrastinating on a daunting task, remember to ‘bite the bullet’ and face it head-on!

Crying Over Spilt Milk

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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You might imagine a distraught individual sobbing at the breakfast table over an unfortunate dairy disaster. But unless you’re lactose intolerant and the last drop of milk was crucial for your morning coffee, this phrase is not about literal milk.

Instead, it’s a light-hearted, albeit stern, reminder that lamenting about past misfortunes – especially trivial missteps – won’t turn back the hands of time. It’s a nudge to refocus our energy on the present and future rather than wasting our tears on what cannot be undone.

By Hook or by Crook

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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This isn’t a guide to becoming a master criminal. Rather, this medieval saying has its roots in English common law. Peasants were permitted to collect firewood from their local lord’s forests, but only wood they could reach with a shepherd’s crook or a reaper’s hook—hence, “by hook or by crook.”

Today, the phrase means to achieve something by any means necessary, whether they’re as cunning as a fox or as straightforward as a charging bull.

Steal Someone’s Thunder

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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While it might conjure images of someone literally plucking bolts of lightning from the sky, fear not; there’s no weather witchcraft involved. In the mercurial world of English idioms, “steal someone’s thunder” means taking credit for another person’s achievements or overshadowing their moment of glory with your own actions.

This phrase was born in the early 18th century when a playwright named John Dennis created a new method of simulating the sound of thunder on stage, but it was his rival who received applause for it.

Hit For Six

17 Popular English Sayings That Don't Seem To Make Sense
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This cricket-derived gem has nothing to do with violence, I promise. In cricket, if a batsman hits the ball clean over the boundary without it touching the ground, they score six runs – the highest possible score in a single stroke.

Thus, being ‘hit for six’ refers to being shocked or devastated, much like a bowler watching his delivery being effortlessly dispatched over the boundary. A well-placed metaphor for when life throws you a curveball, or should we say a cricket ball?

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  • Mitch

    A computer science enthusiast with a keen interest in technology and games, Mitchelle (Mitch) contributes a cutting-edge perspective to the Frenz Hub writing team, integrating her academic knowledge with her personal passions

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