Idioms Uncovered

Idioms Uncovered

“Raining cats and dogs”, “the last straw”, “break a leg”. There are so many cool sayings that you use everyday without even thinking about it. What are the meanings to some of these sayings? How did people come up with them, and why do people use them? In this article I will explain the meanings behind these famous idioms.

One phrase is, “It’s raining cats and dogs”. This saying is weird because animals are being used to describe heavy rain. I don’t know about you, but I can not picture dogs and cats falling out of the sky on a cloudy day. Some people thought this saying was used because of the animals washed away by floodwaters in the rain, including cats and dogs. The real reason behind this is that dogs and wolves are supposedly servants to Odin (god of storms), and cats are supposed to have ridden the wind, meaning the wind was so strong that it picked the cat up from the ground as if it was riding wind. So the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs”, is used for heavy rain and strong winds.  

Another phrase is, “Break a Leg”. Now when you hear this you think, “Oh, this means good luck.” Well, in theater, the reason that people used to say this is that the understudies (a replacement for the actor in case something happens to them) would secretly wish the actors would break a leg, so that they could go on for the actor. Now, people in theater still usually say this phrase, but there is a nicer meaning behind it. The meaning is that on the stage, there is something known as the leg line. The leg line is at the edge of the stage, and beyond this point you could be seen by the audience. Before going on the stage, actors were told to “Break a leg”, meaning go on the stage. People who were not supposed to be on stage, like understudies, are not supposed to cross the line. If they crossed the line, they broke the leg. That’s how the meaning originated.

Ironically, the last saying I will talk about is, “That’s the Last Straw”. When you hear this from your parents, or a teacher, you know your in trouble. Why do you know your in trouble when you hear this? Well, people used this saying because of camels carrying straw. The full version of this saying is, “The Last Straw That Breaks The Camel’s Back”. Camels would have bales of straw put on their back, until their back broke. The last straw was the breaking point of the camel. There was a saying before this which was, “The Last Feather That Breaks the Horses Back”. This saying is believed to be what the camel saying is based off of.

When you say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” I bet you don’t think of wind gods or rain gods. When you hear, “The last straw,” I bet the last thought that comes to your mind is camels with broken backs. There are so many sayings we use everyday, and don’t even think about the meaning of them. So next time you use a saying, think of the meaning behind it.


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