Such as: “Got hold of the wrong end of the stick,” “fell off the wagon,” and indeed, the origins of that wonderful word “cliché”? We all use them without really thinking. But what is their true meaning from the dim and distant past?
I’ve actually held a cliché in my hand. Well, a cliché tray, anyway, in the mid 1970s. While it originally stemmed from a 19th Century French verb "clicher", which roughly means to stereotype, the word became popular in the printing industry. Newspaper typesetters realised that certain journalists used the same phrases over and over again, and kept them in a special tray of type, which they simply pulled out and slotted in while they were making up the page.
No-one really knows where many of our everyday sayings came from, but here are a couple of popular theories or myths:
Break a leg has many possible origins, including the quaint belief that by wishing someone bad luck, the opposite will occur. The most plausible, however, seems to revolve around encores. In traditional stage curtains, the legs of the curtain were constructed from long wooden rods. In the case of many encores, curtains would be lifted and dropped numerous times causing them to break.
The wrong end of the stick: I’ll leave it to your imagination to finish the end of the story. Toilet paper hadn’t been invented in Roman times, so they used a sponge on a stick…
Falling off the wagon: During Prohibition in 19th century America, men often climbed onto wagons and took an oath they would give up alcohol and drink only water. This gave rise to the expression ‘to be on the wagon.’ And when they broke their pledge and started hitting the bottle again, they were said to have ‘fallen off the wagon.’
I’ll drink to that.