Knock It Off, and Other Idioms in Historical Context

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,902
Portugal
Pot calling the kettle black - this idiom most likely has previous Spanish origins, but the earliest written record of it in English appears in 1620 in a translation of Don Quixote by Thomas Shelton ("You are like what [it] is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, 'Avant, black-browes"). Another version of the phrase is included in a collection of proverbs by John Clarke in 1639 ("The pot calls the pan burnt-arse"). A more modern version of the phrase might be "Pot, kettle, black", but that's debatable.

Sometimes cooking vessels are substituted (cauldron, etc), but one must operate under the assumption that all of them are cast iron to retain the original meaning of the phrase - that one is a hypocrite calling the other that which they themselves are (or pots and pans are super racist and they don't own mirrors?).

An alternative interpretation of the phrase appears in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1876, in the form of an anonymously written poem which argues that the kettle is made of metal and is simply reflecting the pot's own image back to it, giving the illusion of sameness.

It seems more likely that the original meaning is closer to the first interpretation of the phrase, because I don't think Don Quixote was cooking in shiny pots and pans (or at least they wouldn't remain that way for long, without an indirect way of heating them - I wonder how those pots feel about that!).

This one reminds me of beauty and the beast, because of all the talking kitchen utensils. These ones seem pretty rude, though.

Are there any more talking inanimate object idioms?

The pot calling the kettle black - Wikipedia
I recently came to the knowledge of the “modern” version, slightly different, shorter, urban, and not so historical way, the mentioned “Pot, Kettle, Black”, discovered its meaning in the Urban Dictionary site: Urban Dictionary: Pot, Kettle, Black, with the also mentioned meaning “hypocrite”.

No way I imagined that “Pot, Kettle, Black” could be related in some way with Cervantes’ masterpiece.

By the way, is “Hello cauldron.” an idiom? It seems related (because of the pot?). I know some idioms in English, but since I am not a native English speaker, I confess that I am unaware of this last one and was unaware of the previous until recently. I was told that this is common enough to English native speakers.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Modor and Niobe

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,686
The two idioms I hear gotten wrong a lot is 'carrying baggage' and 'throw a wrench in the works' with people saying luggage, package, etc and wench, lunch, bunch, etc for the other expression.

The origins of baggage seem interesting if true where the travelling camps that accompanied most armies in the 15th century were instructed to carry their baggage or leave no baggage behind (for it could be used by the enemy) and the associated burdens of war trauma and such became associated with the expression and early psychiatrists would apparently ask their clients to let their burdens go and then the already common expression about baggage was exchanged for burdens.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Modor

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,625
Westmorland
A 'busman's holiday' (meaning when someone does in their free time what they also do in their work time) goes back to the time when no-one had cars and holidays to the seaside or wherever often involved a coach trip. Coach drivers on a trip out would therefore be sitting on a coach driven by someone else.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Modor
Oct 2015
367
Belfast
"The whole nine yards" - Said to be the length of a 0.50 cal ammunition belt as fitted to a P47 Thunderbolt or P51D Mustang.

"A square meal" - On 18th Century Royal Navy warships, the crews meals were served on square wooden plates.

"Copper-bottomed investment". Another idiom which originates from 18th Century Royal Navy ships. Their hulls below the waterlines were sheathed in copper to prevent decay by wood-boring marine organisms.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2017
243
Devon, UK
'Tich' or 'tichy' meaning something or someone small. Derived from Harry Relph, British entertainer and at one time the highest paid star in Europe. He was 4'6" tall and his stage name was 'Little Tich'

He was 'Little Tich' owing to his supposed resemblance to another, taller, music hall attraction of the time, Arthur Orton AKA 'The Titchborne Claimant' who had claimed to be a long lost son of British aristocracy and ended up on the halls following a prison sentence after his attempted fraud was exposed. Tichborne case - Wikipedia

There was a film about the case made in 1998 The Tichborne Claimant (1998) - IMDb
 
Mar 2019
1,849
Kansas
An interesting one from eastern Australia.

Hasn't been sighted off Nobbys

It means you have not seen some one you normally see around for quite sometime

What makes it interesting is no one knows were the saying comes from, its origins etc. It is assumed the Nobbys referred to in the saying references a famous headland in Newcastle harbour (NSW) called Nobbys. But beyond that everything is pure guess work