We’ve all heard in our family’s strange saying and expression but have you ever wondered what they mean? I have. Some may even give you a link to where your ancestors may have come from it the expression has been used for years in a family.
Many of you will know the expression there’s ‘nowt so queer as folk’ from the film the Full Monty (which was set in Sheffield). This is an expression I know well as my Mum’s always said it. Well it’s a colloquialism from Yorkshire/Lancashire meaning there’s nothing as strange as people. So yes a good expression for Sheffielders to use. What’s unusual is that my maternal grandparents weren’t from Sheffield so presumably native Sheffielders said it and it got into our family that way.
Another expression used by our family is black over bills mothers meaning that there a dark clouds coming. This is a midlands expression but I have absolutely no ancestral connection to the midlands, so again this must have come from another source.
What about having a gale in your tail? It’s what’s said when kids go hyper when it’s windy. This is one expression I have no idea where it comes from, but it’s true, it happens.
So what other expressions are there that we may use but have no idea what the origins or the phrase are?
Well one of my favourites has always been ‘mad as a hatter’. I always thought it related to Alice in Wonderland and the mad hatter, but it doesn’t, but it does. The actual meaning of the saying related to the fact that people who mad hats used mercury when making felt. The process gave off mercury fumes which gave the hatters mercury poisoning which lead to a form of madness. Thus you become as mad as a hatter. This expression could indicate a Cheshire/Lancashire amongst others areas ancestry as many of the hatters came from these areas.
Winning hands down. We use it to mean someone can do something easily and has to put no effort into it. This expression comes from horse racing and means the jockey doesn’t have to do anything to encourage there horse i.e. use the whip as there are winning with their hands down. Do you have a jockey in your ancestry?
Skeleton in the closet. We all use this to mean we have something to hide or we don’t want people to know about. You may even have used it in genealogy when you have an ancestor who seems to have had something to hide. It’s actually thought to have come from the body snatchers who had to hid the bodies they dug up before they got them to the medical students for illegal dissection. This expression seems to be widespread throughout the UK.
One I’ve definitely used in genealogy is barking up the wrong tree. We all know it means looking in the wrong place either for a physical object or a piece of information. But what of the origin? Well it’s believed to come from hunting when the dogs chased birds up the trees and continued to bark up the tree thinking the prey was still there when in reality it had flown off. You may have seen it in your own dogs when they’re barking at something that’s not there anymore. Does this indicate a countryside based ancestor or has it just percolated throughout the entire country now as a widespread expression.
My final saying that many may have used but not known the origin is letting ones hair down. These days we use it to mean where having a good time and enjoying ourselves. Well next time you use it think of the medieval women who if they went out had to where their hair up in the fashionable styles and elaborate up does of the day. We all know how just having a ponytail in all day can be uncomfortable so when we get home we let our hair down, as did our medieval ancestors!
So next time you use an expression or colloquialism just think as to its origins and what it says about your ancestry.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!