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Cocktail Crashers Vol.VI: The Unusual, Sanguine Origins of Common Phrases


I was hoping to devote Cocktail Crashers to the history of Black Friday, but it’s far less interesting than I thought. Instead, I figured I’d go back to my favorite past time- finding the bizarre etymology of words and phrases that seem slightly out of place, until you study their origin, and find that they’re not only out of place, but disgusting and sanguine. Just like history.

Here are six of the craziest:

Pay Through the Nose

Comes from a 9th Century tax law imposed on Ireland by the Danes, which includes an uncomfortable provision: tax evaders will have their nostrils slit.

Stealing Someone’s Thunder

The playwright John Dennis invented a way to create the sound of thunder for one of his plays. His play flopped, but other theater owners cribbed his idea. In other words, they stole his thunder.

[more after the jump]

Kick the Bucket

This has nothing to do with a bucket- it’s a corruption of the word buchet- a beam in a slaughterhouse. Pigs were tied to the buchet, and then their throats were slit. As they died they kicked the buchet over and over.

Buy the Farm

Back in the throws of World War I, the government used to send a soldier’s widow enough money to purchase a farm for their family.

The Third Degree

The Masonic Lodges have three degrees of initiation, before you become a StoneCutter Mason. The third degree of initiation involves some long, challenging questions.

Bite the Bullet

Back before we had anesthetic, battlefield surgeons would give their patients a bullet to bite on while they performed amputations and other fun surgeries.

For more of this, check out this book.

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