Category: phrase sources

hold your horses

Slow down or stop, be patient, keep your shirt on, cool your jets. The phrase “hold your horses” literally means to keep your horse (or horses) still. Therefore, it’s easy for anyone who has never heard the expression before to understand its meaning. It is usually followed up with an explanation of why you should wait. For example, “Hold your…

in stitches

Laughing uproariously or uncontrollably. Example: “He was so funny – he had me in stitches all evening.” To be in stitches is to laugh so hard that it hurts — hurts like being pricked with a needle. The first written record of the expression occurs in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, circa 1601. After preparing a practical joke, the character…

horse feathers

Rubbish, nonsense. This term originated in America. “Horsefeathers,” which is said by J. E. Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang to be a euphemism for horse-shit, is reported as being coined by the comic-strip artist and writer, Billy de Beck. He was the author of the popular cartoon Barney Google, which often featured dialogues with a horse — his sidekick,…

blow one’s own horn

Boast about your own achievements. Draw attention to yourself. Usually, the easiest way to do that is to make a lot of noise. Although I suspect that if you really want to catch someone’s attention, whispering might be a better choice. Phrases meaning the same thing have been in use for centuries. For example: Beat your own drum. Toot your…

bite off more than you can chew

Take on more responsibilities or tasks than you can handle. This idiom started being used in America in the late 1800s. It may have originated from the habit of chewing tobacco. Some people would take a big “bite” of the tobacco — much bigger than they could chew — and end up having to spit most of it out before…

horsing around

Light-hearted, boisterous play; fooling around and having fun in a physical way. Little kids especially enjoy horsing around.  In the 16th century, “horse” was a common adjective describing anything strong, big, or coarse. Along with horseplay, that’s how horseradish got its name. The verb “horse,” once meant “play crazy jokes on.” Experts aren’t sure how it came into use, or…

bunny hug

The Saskatchewan nickname for a hooded sweatshirt, with a pocket in front, and no zipper.  It’s similar to a “cotton popover” and a “kangaroo sweatshirt.” Bunny populations in Saskatchewan were high back in the 50’s and 60’s, and the bunnies annoyed farmers by munching on crops. The government was persuaded to put a bounty on bunnies, the same as they…