We have sometimes proverbially "a board before the head", "tomatoes on the eyes" or are "on the wrong track". If we can still avert a misfortune, we are "out of the woods", but if it goes wrong, it just "falls apart". And sometimes we even "buy a pig in a poke". Proverbs and idioms are on everyone’s lips and are also optimal stylistic devices for making a text idiomatic. But where do these idioms come from? We have taken the most popular sayings and explain in this article their origin.
1. to have tomatoes on the eyes
Meaning: to overlook something, not to notice something, not to see something
Origin: This idiom comes from medieval Spain, where the tomato (in Austria, of course, the tomato parade) was long considered the fruit of sin. Cheaters, thieves or adulterers therefore often heard the court sentence: "tomates en los ojos" – in German "tomatoes on the eyes!"
As punishment, convicted criminals had to walk around for weeks and sometimes even months with tomatoes tied in front of their eyes, so that everyone in town learned of the crime. This public humiliation was hard to bear for the people concerned.
According to another explanation, this expression originally meant "to look sleepy" and referred to reddened conjunctivae and puffy eye areas.
2. kick the bucket
Meaning: euphemistic for die
originThere are different interpretations of the origin of this expression. One of them: In farming communities, each child was given his or her own wooden spoon, which was always carried with them until the end of their lives. So "giving him up" was equivalent to "no longer having the right to live". Also a servant received a spoon on loan. When this one moved on or passed away, he had to kick the bucket so the next one got it.
3. to be taken in by someone
Meaning: to be deceived, tricked or fooled by someone. to be deceived
Origin: This idiom comes from the formerly quite cruel way of catching birds. Branches or rods were smeared with glue so that the birds stuck to them. They literally "fell for the trapper".
4. to buy a pig in a poke
Meaning: getting involved in the unknown; buying something untested (and being taken advantage of)
OriginThis expression goes back to the fact that fraudulent traders in the Middle Ages often foisted worthless cats instead of chickens, piglets or rabbits on their unwary customers and enriched themselves in this way.
5. to put someone in the pillory
Meaning: to accuse publicly, to denounce someone
Origin: In the Middle Ages, it was customary to punish certain crimes by chaining a wrongdoer to a stake – the pillory – placed in a public square, exposing him or her to general scorn and ridicule.
6. Only understand train station
Meaning: not understanding or not wanting to understand
Origin: The phrase "I only understand train stations" dates back to World War I. The railroad was considered the undisputed number one means of transportation, and even in wars it was used to transport war equipment, rations, etc. brought to the front. For the soldiers, however, the station was a symbol of homecoming – those who were allowed to go to the station could return home in good health. This fervent desire to go home was so prevalent that soldiers often had only the train station in their heads, i.e., "only understood the train station".
7. to have a board before the head
Meaning: not to understand something obvious, to be obtuse
OriginThis expression has in its origin nothing to do with the thinking ability of a person. It comes from the fact that farmers used to hang a board in front of the head of stubborn oxen to make it easier to work with them. In this way, the oxen were less jumpy when, for example, harnesses were put on them. So if we have a board in front of our head, we are as stupid as an ox.
8. all good things come in threes
Meaning: said when something works only after the third attempt; to emphasize the number 3 positively
Origin: What hardly anyone knows : this idiom goes back to the ancient Germanic tribes and, more precisely, to legalese. By a "thing" one understood at that time no thing, but a court case. A person who was summoned to court and failed to appear three times in succession could also be tried in absentia. The plaintiff then automatically won, therefore "all good things are and were three".
9. to be on the wrong track
Meaning: be in error
originBy the logging road is meant the road used for the removal of wood. When hikers took the wooden path to get to the next human settlement, they got no further; they only got to where a tree had once been cut down. So the wooden path was the wrong way.
10. that seems Spanish to me
Meaning: This seems strange to me or. incomprehensible
Origin: This colloquial expression probably goes back to the time when Charles V., a Spaniard, wore the German imperial crown. The Germans got to know Spanish fashion, Spanish customs and traditions for the first time, and these naturally seemed strange and odd to them. The Spanish counterpart of this is "esto me suena a chino", meaning "this seems Chinese to me".
11. have to pay for something
Meaning: to have to bear the consequences of something that is usually the fault of someone else
OriginThis expression can be explained by the fact that in the public baths of the Middle Ages, it was common for several people to use the precious bath water one after the other. Of course, the bathing guest who was the last one to have to "pay off" the tub had the worst card – the water was no longer very warm and only partially clean. In this figurative meaning, the phrase has been used since the 16. Century occupies.
12. to put on a tooth
Meaning: to increase the speed
OriginRelevant dictionaries give two different meanings here. Some people believe that the origin of this expression dates back to the Middle Ages, when food was prepared in a pot over the fire. The pot hung on a rail with several prongs, also called "teeth". If the food should be ready faster, one hung the pot a tooth more deeply and increased so the temperature in the pot. According to other sources, this phrase comes from as late as the 20th century. The word was used in the nineteenth century and is generally attributed to motors. The speed of which could only be regulated in stages. If one wanted to increase the speed, one had to engage into a higher position.
13. be off the hook
Meaning: have overcome a difficult situation
Origin: This idiom goes back to playing skat. The profession of tailor was not very prestigious in the past: If you were a tailor, you were not fit for "real" work. "To be a tailor" in card playing meant to have less than half the required number of points. If the player was "off the hook", the loss was less.
14. lose the thread
Meaning: forget what you actually wanted to say
Origin: The phrase probably comes from spinning and weaving. If you let the thread slip out of your hand, it disturbed the work and meant a loss of time.
15. fall apart
Meaning: to be lost, to be nullified
Origin: rushes in this context are reeds and these from the 19. A saying originating in the nineteenth century refers to duck hunting. If a hunter hit a wild duck and it landed in the reeds, the hunting dog couldn’t find it; it literally "went to pot".
16. get dirty
Meaning: to be guilty of something
OriginYou literally have "dirt on you" because you often return dirty after a hike or outing. Sometimes you can only tell by the walking stick that someone has waded through dirt. While the clothes are cleaned afterwards, the stick is usually forgotten about.