Where Do Cliches Come From? The History of 4 Popular Cliches

Raining cats and dogs.

We say things like “raining cats and dogs” and “in a nutshell” more often than we realize, and since these cliches are such a normal part of our everyday conversation, we don’t really take the time to think about where they came from and how they originated.

Knowing the history of the phrases we use on a consistent basis is quite interesting, and the following are the origins of four of the most popular cliches.

It’s all Greek to me.

When this cliche is used, it means that you are unsure of the topic at hand. For example, if you were listening to a political debate but knew nothing about politics and someone asked you what was going on, you could say, “it’s all Greek to me”.

This cliche was first used in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. It was spoken by Casca, a member of the group that wanted to kill Caesar. He was telling Cassius and Brutus about a conversation he overheard, but told them “it was Greek to me”, referring to a part in the conversation where Cicero spoke in Greek so that anyone walking past (or listening in, like Casca) could not understand what was being said.

Hair of the dog.

If you have ever had a hangover, you have probably heard the phrase “hair of the dog”. This cliche refers to curing a hangover by consuming a small dose of the same alcohol that initially gave you the hangover.

The origin of this cliche was traced back to ancient folk wisdoms. These individuals believed that “likes cured likes”, so if you were sick from alcohol, alcohol would be the only thing to cure it. Though some may believe in that tactic, most of us prefer sunglasses, rest and a lot of Tylenol instead.

Skeletons in the closet.

If you have any secrets that you wish to keep secrets, they are also referred to skeletons in your closet.

The origin of this cliche can be found in the story of Bluebeard. When Bluebeard left for business, he gave his wife all the keys to the house. While the keys gave her access to every room in the house, he forbid her from opening the closet door at the end of the hallway. Her inquisitive mind forced her to open the closet, where she found the skeletons of Bluebeard’s previous wives.

Stick to your guns.

This cliche refers to remaining loyal to your duty. For example, if you were about to enter a debate, you could be told to “stick to your guns”, meaning that you should continue to hold to and fight for your beliefs instead of giving up.

The origin of this cliche is traced back to military jargon. Soldiers were constantly being told to “stick to their guns”, meaning that they needed to constantly stick to their position of war and not leave their guns behind and retreat during battle.

Cliches are things that we see and use on a regular basis, and whether or not the history behind the cliche is important to you, knowing the origin is, at the very least, entertaining and can easily be a conversation starter at your next social gathering.

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