We’ve talked about idioms a lot here on the Bespeaking blog (English idioms, Sports Idioms, and More Idioms), but it’s only because English speakers use them so much! And all this talk about idioms had us asking, “Where do they come from?” So this week we did some research on several English phrases to find out the origins (as well as the meanings).

Check out these 5 crazy stories below and pepper your speech with our findings.

Raining Cats and Dogs


Meaning: If it’s raining cats and dogs, unfortunately you’re not going to find your new furry best friend falling from the sky. Instead, it’s raining extremely heavily. So heavily, in fact, that staying inside with a good book might seem like a better option.

Origin: This origin of this English phrase, raining cats and dogs, comes from the 16- and 1700s in England. The streets were so dirty, that when it would rain heavily, debris, garbage, and sometimes dead animals, would be carried through the streets by the water. This led to this idiom, as it looked like cats and dogs had indeed been raining from the sky.

Nip it in the bud

Meaning: If you nip something in the bud, you put a stop to something while it’s still getting started. Perhaps a project is being worked on, but it needs to be stopped for some reason – even if it’s not finished.

Origin: Like many English phrases, the original idiom was different to what we know now. In this case, nip it in the bud actually used to be nip it in the bloom, as it comes from the maintaining of flowering plants. If you de-bud a plant, they can grow better. So if you stop a project while it’s still in production, it can become better than it would have been before!

Thorn in my side

Meaning: If someone is being a real thorn in your side (as I often was as a child), the person is being very irritating or annoying.

Origin: This idiom has biblical origins with the letters from St. Paul. In 2 Corinthians, he describes a source of constant irritation as “a thorn in the flesh”. The “thorn” was supposed to remind him not to be too proud. Over the years, this English phrase has morphed into the idiom we use today.

Proud as Punch

Meaning: If you’re proud as punch, you’re extremely proud and pleased with something you or someone else has done. “She was proud as punch that she knew all the answers on the test!”

Origin: The origin of this idiom unfortunately has nothing to do with a refreshing beverage-it’s actually a bit darker than that. It originates from the traditional English puppet show Punch and Judy. In the show, Punch murders his wife, Judy, their child, a policeman, a doctor, a lawyer, the hangman, Death, and even the Devil. Each time he is extremely proud and pleased with himself. If you’re “proud as Punch”, you’re as proud as if you had killed Death itself!

Kick the bucket

Meaning: This is one of my favorite English phrases, even though it’s rather morbid. If someone kicks the bucket, it means that they have died. Fun fact about me: to my mom’s dismay, I have asked my brother to write in my future obituary that I have “kicked the bucket”!

Origin: It’s not known exactly where this idiom comes from, but the Oxford English Dictionary hypothesizes that it came from slaughtering animals. When a pig would be taken to slaughter, it would be hoisted up on a beam (from Anglo-Norman French, buquet) specifically for this purpose. As the animal died, it would flail around, kicking its legs, which would knock over a bucket. Although this idiom has a pretty gruesome origin, it’s now a rather lighthearted way to talk about someone passing on.

Did you know the origins of these common English phrases or were you as surprised as we were? Are there any other origins of English phrases you’d like to know? Give us a shout in the comments below!

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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English7 Synonyms for Being Drunk7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and could really get caught up doing all this research on English phrases! They are so fun! 

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