Check how well you know the origin of the weirdest English-language idioms.

14 December 2020 20:00
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After every Elvis Presley concert, his fans were reluctant to leave, still hoping for an encore or just a glimpse at the star. To make them disperse, the announcer would take the mic and say: “Elvis has left the building”. It meant the show was over for good. Even though Elvis Presley had already left not just the building but this world as well, the words stuck and became an idiom meaning something is terminally over. Some idioms are born in everyday life and tend to reflect people’s perception of things. Others are coined by famous people. Check how well you know the origin of the weirdest English idioms.
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  • 1 of 10
    When you were three, you were knee-high to a grasshopper! It means very young or small. Guess how this idiom came into being!
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    • The idiom was first used by Ray Bradbury in his “Dandelion wine”
      Incorrect
    • The idiom was created by the American naturalist philosophers trying to find natural harmony in every phenomenon of human life.
      Incorrect
    • The idiom in its modern wording was first used in the US Democratic Review Magazine.
      Right! The magazine said, “You pretend to be my daddies; some of you who are not knee-high to a grasshopper!”
  • 2 of 10
    If you and your best friend chew the fat for a while, it doesn’t mean you’re hungry. You want to gossip or have some friendly small talk. But do you know who the first fat-chewers were?
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    • In 18th century England eggs and bacon were a traditional dish at tea parties. Thus, noble guests at a party would chew the fat while chatting.
      Incorrect
    • American students, having no time and money for good food, would eat fatty burgers and French fries while chatting with each other during class breaks.
      Incorrect
    • In the early 20th century English sailors would chew salted beef and pork on deck and complain about the hardships of their life.
      Right! The idiom has naval roots.
  • 3 of 10
    If you stay calm despite being locked in your room and listening to Zoom classes 24/7, you’re cool as a cucumber. But why are cucumbers so cool?
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    • British poet John Gay in his ‘New Song on New Similies’ poem used the comparison because cucumbers always feeling cool and fresh despite the summer heat.
      Right! Cucumbers are cool.
    • In the Middle Ages Irish peasants would always put cucumbers together with other foods in the cellar in summer.
      Incorrect
    • Cucumber used to be a holy vegetable in British India. It was the sym bol of perpetual peace and harmony.
      Incorrect
  • 4 of 10
    If your wife tells you that you are getting her goat, she is just angry at you, leaving your dirty socks all over the house. Hmm, but since when has your wife had a goat?
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    • The idiom comes from ancient Rome. The Romans worshipped goats, so having his holy goat stolen would make a Roman angry.
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • In late 19th century jockeys used to keep goats in stables with their horses. The presence of a goat made a horse quiet and relaxed.
      Right!
    • The idiom was first used by the American comedian Bob Newhart in his album of comedic monologues “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart”.
      Oops, wrong answer.
  • 5 of 10
    The exclamation “Bob’s your uncle!” is usually used after a set of simple instructions to highlight that it’s all you have to do to get a result. But…who is uncle Bob?
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    • Bob Marley
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • Prime Minister Robert Cecil (Lord Salisbury)
      Right. The exclamation was first used in the 19th century when Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour to several important political posts. The Brits believed at the time that having an influential uncle was all that Balfour had to do to become a politician.
    • Sponge Bob
      Oops, wrong answer.
  • 6 of 10
    Don’t spill the beans about the secret party! Otherwise, your story won’t be a secret anymore. But do you know who was the first to spill the beans?
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    • Ancient Greeks used beans instead of bulletins: white beans meant positive votes and black beans – negative votes.
      Right!
    • In 1991 one of the best Michelin chefs Joёl Robuchon spilt the beans in the kitchen, revealing the secret ingredient of his speciality dish.
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • The idiom was born in colonial Africa. In Nigerian tribes, if a man feels for a woman or has spent a night with her, he gives her a cocoa bean as a symbol of his love.
      Oops, wrong answer.
  • 7 of 10
    You’d better butter your husband up before telling him that you have crashed his BMW. Well, but where does the practice of buttering up come from?
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    • Ancient Indians would throw butter balls into gods’ statues, asking them for favour and forgiveness.
      Right!
    • In the Hensel and Gretel story, the bad witch buttered the poor kids telling them it was a magic ointment.
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • The Pilgrims gave native Americans butter to gain their favour and push them into a false sense of security.
      Oops, wrong answer.
  • 8 of 10
    Appointment with a dentist isn’t a pleasant pastime, but from time to time, you should bite the bullet and make it…before there is nothing to bite with. Yes, biting the bullet is about enduring an unpleasant but inevitable situation. Guess where this idiom comes from!
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    • George Gordon Byron used the phrase to describe suicide.
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • The idiom was born in the 19th century. As there was practically no anaesthetic at the time, patients were asked to bite a bullet to help them cope with pain during surgery.
      Right! Instead of biting a bullet, the patient could also be asked to bite a leather belt.
    • The 18th-century dentists advised their patients to bite bullets to make their teeth stronger.
      Incorrect
  • 9 of 10
    After biting the bullet, it’s perfectly okay to feel somewhat under the weather. In other words, to feel tired or ill. But… what’s wrong with the weather?
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    • When a sailor was feeling ill, he would go beneath the bow, which is the front part of the boat. This could protect him from the evil forces of nature - he was literally under the bad weather that could make him even sicker.
      Right! This idiom is nautical in nature.
    • Queen Victoria of England was very sensitive to weather changes. When it was gloomy, the Queen easily got irritated and even angry.
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • In 2020, one of the daily British newspapers printed the number of new cases of coronavirus in the world right under the weather forecast.
      Oops, wrong answer
  • 10 of 10
    When you tell your chatty friend to put a sock in it, you are asking him to stop talking and be quiet. But why a sock? Isn’t it…unsanitary?
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    • In the early automotive era, when a car was making a lot of noise, the driver would put a balled sock in the exhaust tailpipe.
      Oops, wrong answer.
    • Early gramophones had no volume control. People were annoyed by the loud sound, so the person operating the player put a sock rolled into a ball into it.
      Right! An excessively loud sound could be too irritating, so people used their savvy to reduce the volume of the gramophone.
    • In the 19th century in Yorkshire primary schools, when a pupil talked too much in class, the teacher would ask him to take one of his socks off and put it into a basket. The pupil who ended up with no socks on his feet would be suspended from school for a day.
      Oops, wrong answer.
  • / 10

    Seems like you’re a bit under the weather today. But don’t worry and keep trying - Elvis hasn’t left the building yet!

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  • / 10

    You’ve got a B on the idioms test. But stay cool as a cucumber and keep trying! They say practice makes perfect.

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  • / 10

    Well done! You know your idioms like a true native speaker!

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