Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Memorable Old Phrases


'I'll just give this a lick and a promise,' my mother said as she quickly mopped up a spill on the floor without moving any of the furniture.

'What is that supposed to mean,' I asked as in my young mind I envisioned someone licking the floor with his or her tongue. 

'It means that I'm in a hurry and I'm busy canning tomatoes so I am going to just give it a lick with the mop and promise to come back and do the job right later. 

'A lick and a promise' was just one of the many old phrases that our mothers, grandmothers, and others used that they probably heard from the generations before them. With the passing of time, many old phrases become obsolete or even disappear.  This is unfortunate because some of them are very appropriate and humorous. Here is a list of some of those memorable old phrases:  
1. A Bone to Pick (someone who wants to discuss a disagreement) 
2. An Axe to Grind (Someone who has a hidden motive. This phrase is said to have originated from Benjamin Franklin  who told a story about a devious man who asked how a grinding wheel worked. He ended up walking away with his axe sharpened free of  charge)  
3. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel (one corrupt person can cause all the others to go bad if you don't remove the bad one) 
4. At sea (lost or not understanding something) 
5. Bad Egg (Someone who was not a good person) 
6. Barking at a knot (meaning that your efforts were as useless as a dog barking at a knot.) 
7.  Barking up the wrong tree (talking about something that was completely the wrong issue with the wrong person)
8.  Bee in your bonnet (To have an idea that won't let loose )
9.  Been through the mill (had a rough time of it)
10.Between hay and grass (Not a child or an adult)
11. Blinky (Between sweet and sour as in milk)
12. Calaboose (a jail)
13. Catawampus (Something that sits crooked such as a piece of furniture sitting at an angle)
14. Dicker (To barter or trade) 
15.  Feather in Your Cap (to accomplish a goal. This came from years ago in wartime when warriors might receive a feather they would put in their cap for defeating an enemy)  
16.  Hold your horses  (Be patient!)  
17.  Hoosegow ( a jail) 
18.  I reckon (I suppose) 
19.  Jawing/Jawboning (Talking or arguing) 
20. Kit and caboodle (The whole thing)  
21.  Madder than an wet hen (really angry)
22. Needs taken down a notch or two (like notches in a belt usually a young person who thinks too highly of himself and needs a lesson) 
23.No Spring Chicken  (Not young anymore)
24.Persnickety (overly particular or snobbish)
25.Pert-near  (short for pretty near)
26.Pretty is as pretty does  (your actions are more important than your looks)
27.Red up (clean the house)
28.Scalawag (a rascal or unprincipled person)
29.Scarce as hen's teeth  (something difficult to obtain)
30.Skedaddle (Get out of here quickly)
31.  Sparking (courting)
32.Straight From the Horse's Mouth  (privileged information from the one concerned)
33.Stringing around, gallivanting around, or piddling  (Not doing anything of value)
34.Sunday go to meetin' dress  (The best dress you had)
35.We wash up real fine (is another goodie)
36.Tie the Knot  (to get married)
37.Too many irons in the fire  (to be involved in too many things)       
38.Tuckered out  (tired and all worn out)
39. Under the weather  (not feeling well this term came from going below deck on ships due to sea sickness thus you go below or under the weather)
40.Wearing your 'best bib and tucker'  (Being all dressed up)
41.  You ain't the only duck in the pond (It's not all about you)
Well, if you hold your horses, I reckon I'll get this whole kit and caboodle done and sent off to you. Please don't be too persnickety and get a bee in your bonnet because I've been pretty tuckered out and at sea lately because I'm no spring chicken.  I haven't been just stringin' around and I know I'm not the only duck in the pond, but I do have too many irons in the fire. I might just be barking at a knot, but I have tried to give this article more than just  

I do remember hearing some of these, heck, I have even used "a lick and a promise" and some of the others too.  How about you?  

See you later for more Aimless Ramblings.


  1. LOL Sunny...I've heard all of these from my grandparents, parents, aunts,uncles, etc. and have used some also. Will add to your list with these from my grandmother..."birds of a feather" and "birds of a feather flock together" which mean the same type of people hang out together so if any of us grands had friends that were misbehaving, we would be "tarred with the same brush"...meaning it would be assumed that we were the same. :-)


    1. Yes, I agree and I too remember "birds of a feather" oh wait, I think I may have said that at time or two.

  2. Hey Sunny :)

    This is really cool. But I have to say having grown up in the north of England, many of the phrases you have here, we still use. I suppose language evolves over time and and in America with so many nationalities under one roof so to say, means that many phrases are lost as generations are brought up without that background.

    I know with my children being brought up in Germany and with less of an British influence apart from me as their mother, many words and translations are getting lost and I'm finding myself "translating" many things in to simpler words for them to understand. It's a shame really, as a part of tradition is lost with every generation who grows up apart of its roots.

    I loved this post, thanks for walk down memory lane :)

    Hugs x

    1. It is a shame how lore gets lost, but that's a measure of progress, I guess.

  3. LoL Sunny, I enjoyed reading this and realised how many of these I know and use! Guess I'm no spring chicken LoL. Some were new to me and I loved the explanations of how they originated.


    1. Some were new to me too, but like you I have used may of them myself.

  4. Oh my. I use most of these. My favorite isn't on your list. "It will come out in the wash" How many times did I hear that one growing up.

  5. Haha these are great.

    I can only think of a couple that I used to hear growing up.

    Haud yer wheesht!

    Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye!

    :) Dee x

    1. Don't understand the last two. Wrong keys or a language I am not familiar with.

    2. Scottish dialect sunny.
      First means basically - be quiet!
      Second is saying 'what's for you will not go by you'.

    3. Gotcha. It's nice to hear another way to say "Shut Up", can you tell me how to say if phonetically (sp).

      I love the second - I've always felt that way, even though sometimes it's hard to accept at the time.

      Thanks Dee

  6. The only one I hadn't heard was Blinky. Being southern, I've used most. Often I seem to use them more when I talk to Yankees. They seem to expect it and I hate to disappoint.

    1. I'd not heard of a few of these, others were very familiar.

  7. LOL...very clever ending! I have heard most and used many of these.
    hugs abby

  8. I love these and know I already use many already.

  9. I've used quite a few of these but some not heard of.

    Barking at a knot


    1. I've heard one and three, not two. How about six of one, half dozen of another.

    2. Yes, know that one. How about You can't teach and old dog new tricks?


    3. Yeah, know that one too. Used it many times.

  10. Lol, that's awesome. I have used more than I thought I would have, but I did get to expand my vocabulary, which is always a good thing (depending on who you ask I suppose...)

    1. Always good to expand vocabulary no matter who you ask. Some of them are pretty familiar to me too.

  11. That was so fun to read. It's like stepping back in time because it reminds me of my childhood.

    sara :)

  12. I love this...I always laugh with my dad about these. I think I am #37.

  13. Lol, I haven't heard most of these. I'm going to have to start using some of them. Thanks for sharing!

    1. They have been around forever and maybe will be even longer if people use them. They do "fit the bill"

  14. These are great. Thanks for sharing :) I have heard most of them. Here's some more,
    The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. (A child is like his/her parent.)
    Too much sugar makes the pie too sweet. (Too much of a good thing isn't good.)

    1. "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush"
      "Puttin on the dog"

      I'm quite sure there's hundreds more we've all heard through the years.


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