It would take one strong umbrella to withstand the weight of falling cats and dogs…and what are the chances of Wilbur sprouting wings and taking flight? These are just a few expressions that have become part of our everyday speech. Welcome to the intriguing land of idioms!
Merriam-Webster defines idioms as, “an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own”. Sounds a little confusing, right? That seems to capture the spirit of the idiom itself. Let’s look at some common examples and see if we can demystify the meaning of these enigmatic idioms.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
This essentially means to not get rid of something important while you’re throwing out something unimportant.
In medieval times, babies did not “rule the roost” (Hey! Another idiom!). In the rare times that the household would bathe, father went first, then the other males, then women and girls, and finally Baby. Well, it doesn’t take a whole lot of creative juice to imagine how filthy that water must have been by Baby’s turn. When it was time to discard the mucky water, mother had to be careful not to throw baby out, too.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Have you ever gotten angry at someone for giving you bad news?
Before the earth was carved out to this people or that, it had to be fought over through battle after battle. Kings anxiously awaited news of some crucial battle or other, and one can imagine the heart-pounding moments that passed between spotting the messenger and hearing the message itself. If the dispatch was one of victory, what a celebration it must have been! But rumor has it that more than one messenger lost his life after reporting defeat. The next time someone relays bad news to you, remember: don’t shoot the messenger.
When pigs fly…
This simply means something is impossible and will never happen. For example:
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes….when pigs fly”.
It seems that in addition to Scottish whiskey and haggis, the Scots have blessed us with this idiom.
It’s raining cats and dogs.
Ever been caught in a downpour and the raindrops had weight? Then you know what it feels like when “it’s raining cats and dogs”. There is a lot of doubt about the origin of this particular idiom–or if it’s even really an idiom– but the general consensus is this phrase has medieval roots.
In the 1500s, the roof over one’s dwelling tended to be thatch, a dry vegetation like straw or reeds. Supposedly, cats and dogs would find warmth sunning on the roof. If a storm happened along, the thatch would become slippery and our poor felines and canines would fall through the thatch. This seems rather dubious, but is still fun to picture.
And now, it’s time to “call it a day” until our next segment.
CJ Heath is a lover of quirky things, including idioms. She also sometimes loves idiots, too, but they are not the same thing.