Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chewing the Fat and Other Interesting Facts

Most people grow up hearing old adages from their grandparents. For example: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

The following is the origins of familiar old sayings dating back to circa 1500 and beyond.

Baths consisted of a large tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of being first to enjoy the clean water—then came all the adult sons and other male family members, then the women and finally the children. Last of all came the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had roofs thatched with straw and with no wooden support beams beneath the straw. The roof was the only place for animals to bet warm, so all the cats, dogs and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, the straw became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Poor people lived in houses with dirt floors. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.”

In the days of yore, people cooked in a large pot that always hung over the fire. Because meat was scarce, the people mostly ate vegetables. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight. The next day, more vegetables were added to the pot. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been in the pot for up to ten days. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

If a homeowner was lucky, he might obtain a small portion of salt pork. When visitors came, the homeowner would hang up his bacon to show off his little bit of wealth. Hence the saying, “Bring home the bacon.” The homeowner would cut off a little to share with his guests. They would sit around (talk) and “chew the fat.”

Tanners used the acid in urine as an agent for curing hides. To earn money, families would urinate in a pot, then once a day take it to Tanner and sell it. People who did this to survive were considered, “Piss Poor.”

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. These people were considered the lowest of low because—“They didn’t have a pot to piss in.”

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, a family got the middle of the loaf, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

After sailors had crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies, they would take the native women on board the ship and have their way with them in between the cannons. Some of the women the sailors left behind would have boys, who were called sons between the guns, or son of a gun.

Wet Your Whistle: Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used to blow the whistle to get some service.

A bird in the hand is worth…This refers back to mediaeval falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was certainly worth more than two in the bush (the prey).

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Aesop started this saying way back in 570 B.C. when he wrote his fable "The Milkmaid and Her Pail". Meaning: Don’t spend your money before you make it.


I.J. Parnham said...

Like 'em and I didn't most of those, although I've come across the whistle wetting theory before and I think it's unlikely to be true. It sounds as if it'd need some very complex pot making skills to achieve. I reckon it's more likely that whistle is just english for mouth, lips, or throat.

Paty Jager said...

I love learning where these sayings come from. Fun post!