Here in New Zealand, we are a melting pot of slang. From our colonial roots to the blending of our many different cultures, we have many wonderful old-fashioned sayings. Here are a few of our favourites and their origins to share with you.
- Pleased as Punch – from the 17th century puppet show Punch and Judy, where Punch was always happy with himself after he had killed someone.
- No spring chicken – from the time New England farmers sold their newborn chickens in the spring.
- Bite the bullet – when there was no time to perform anaesthesia, surgeons told their patients to bite the bullet to distract themselves from the pain.
- Blood is thicker than water – when warriors shed blood together in battle, they were said to build stronger bonds than biological family members.
- Break the ice – still happening today, ships would break the ice to get to a port in order to unload their cargo. People break the ice with each other when meeting, to help relax everyone.
- Sleep tight – originates from the time when mattresses had to be tied onto bed frames with ropes to make the bed firmer.
- Butter someone up – an Indian custom when clarified butter was thrown at statues of gods to show good favour.
- Go the whole 9 yards – dates back to World War 2 when fighter pilots were given a 9-yard chain of ammunition to fire at the enemy. If he did, he went the whole 9 yards.
- Cat got your tongue – when the whip used the cat-o’-nine-tails was used by the English Navy for flogging, which left the victim speechless due to the pain.
- Let your hair down – from the time Parisian nobles could only let their hair down and relax at home, otherwise they’d face public condemnation.
- Kick the bucket – back in the days when slaughter houses put a bucket underneath a cow when they were about to kill it.
- More than you can shake a stick at – dates back to the time when shepherds controlled their sheep by shaking their staffs in the direction the flock should move.
- Rule of thumb – when a 17th century judge ruled that a husband could beat his wife with a stick if it was no wider than his thumb.
- Saved by the bell – to prevent people being buried alive, bodies in coffins had ropes attached to a bell they could ring if they weren’t dead.
- Waking up on the wrong side of bed – the left side of the body or doing anything with your left side was seen to be sinister. Innkeepers pushed the bed against a wall, so guests had to get out on the right side of bed.
What are your favourite sayings? Come share them with us below!