Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published May 23rd 2014
Say Cheers to a Colourful Language
The English language is bursting with imager. These metaphors and similes have been around for so long, that they seem as old as Time, and many make us all sixes and sevens because we don't know where they came from. I am here to shed some light on the situation by letting the cat out of the bag, and sharing the origins of some of my favourite sayings. So let's go back to square one and have a look at why we're talking turkey.
At a Medieval banquet, the saltshaker was placed in the centre of the table, available for everybody to use. Those of most importance would sit opposite – or above – the saltshaker, while the least socially significant people would sit furthest away. Today being above or below the salt describes your status.
2. All Sixes and Sevens
All sixes and sevens is a term used to describe a state of confusion, which is exactly what a couple of merchants were in during the fifteenth century. There was a annual procession in London that they were to take part in, but the two livery companies could not decide who should be in sixth place, and who should be in seventh. They eventually decided to alternate each year.
If you have ever been compared to this green fruit, then you should take it as a compliment. That is unless you are living in the sixteenth century. Back then, people believed cucumbers encumbered the sexual libido, and the term 'cold as a cucumber' was a slander against women. It was the playwright, John Gay, in 1732, who changed to expression to 'cool as a cucumber', as reference to someone who is composed and level-headed.
4. At Loggerheads
In the sixteenth century, a logger was a block of wood tethered to a hobble horse to prevent it from wandering away. When adding 'head', you essentially end up with 'blockhead', a word for someone who is rather thick. To be at loggerheads, therefore means two or more people in a stalemate disagreement, who are too mindlessly obstinate to settle the situation.
5. Back to Square One
Image from commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Snakes_and_ladders2.JPG
The origins of this phrase, which means going back to the beginning, is rather charming. It derives from the innocent childhood game of snakes and ladders, where, if you landed on a snake, you would slide down its tail and land back at the first square.