Finer Than Frog Hair (and other strange sayings)

frogRecently these words came out of my mouth when my wife asked how I was doing.  While searching for a clever comeback, somehow my brain pulled this rather strange phrase out.

Finer than frog hair?

Why is that a saying?   As we both stood there for a moment, I couldn’t help but wonder why that came out.  I assumed it was a saying that originated from my South Georgia roots.  Who would even think of such a thing?  And is frog hair really fine?

This got me to wondering about other odd sayings that are out there and how they originated:

“Finer than frog hair”

  • What does it mean?  It means a person is in good spirits or excellent mood.
  • Origin:  The allusion to the hairs on a frog clearly points us to the ‘slender, narrow’, meaning of the phrase. Just as clearly, (most) frogs don’t have hair, and the ironic reference to it is intended to highlight the effect.

“I’ll keep my eyes peeled”

  • What does it mean?  Although it sounds like a painful thing to do to our eyeballs, it actually means we are going to watch something very closely.
  • Origin:  From about the 17th century on, pill was commonly spelt peel and took on the sense of “to remove or strip” in the weakened sense of removing an outer covering, such as a fruit. The figurative sense of keeping alert, by removing any covering of the eye that might impede vision, seems to have appeared in the US about 1850.

I beg to differ”

  • What does it mean?  It is usually a way to disagree with someone in a nice way.  You may not actually resort to begging but disagreeing kindly.
  • Origin:  Most sources indicate this saying originated from England as a proper British phrase.

“Let’s hightail it out of here”

  • What does it mean?  While the image of such a phrase is rather humorous, it usually means to get away very quickly.
  • Origin:  From comparisons of animals that raise their tails when fleeing.  Could also be from the days when horses were our primary modes of transportation.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes”

  • What does it mean?  A way to say you have missed someone or that you are happy to see them.
  • Origin:  This phrase was first recorded by Jonathan Swift, in A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation, 1738.

“Sleep tight”

  • What does it mean?  We are wishing someone to have a good night’s sleep.   Of course I have already heard it with “…and don’t let the bed bugs bite”.   Yes, that’s a real comforting thought.
  • Origin:  This 19th century expression isn’t, as is often wrongly claimed, a reference to the tightness of the strings used to support mattresses.

“Blood is thicker than water”

  • What does it mean?  Family is more important than anything else.  Yeah, you would think right?
  • Origin:  In ancient Middle Eastern culture, blood rituals between men symbolized bonds that were far greater than those of family. The saying also has to do with “blood brothers,” because warriors who symbolically shared the blood they shed in battle together were said to have stronger bonds than biological brothers.

“I quit cold turkey”

  • What does it mean?  To quit something quickly.
  • Origin:  People believed that during withdrawal, the skin of drug addicts became translucent, hard to the touch, and covered with goose bumps – like the skin of a plucked turkey.

“Waking up on the wrong side of the bed”

  • Meaning:  Waking up in a bad mood.   If you’ve known people like this you might want to consider the origin.
  • Origin:  The left side of the body or anything having to do with the left was often associated considered sinister. To ward off evil, innkeepers made sure the left side of the bed was pushed against a wall, so guests had no other option but to get up on the right side of the bed.

“Getting the cart before the horse”

  • What does it mean?  Getting things out of order
  • Origin:  The meaning of the phrase is based on the common knowledge that a horse usually pulls a cart, despite rare examples of vehicles pushed by horses in 19th-century Germany and early 20th-century France.

There are many more interesting phrases we use and, if your are from the South, the list is even longer.  Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has educated a lot of people on some of those.  We have some very interesting sayings.  Hopefully, I won’t be a frequent user of “fine as frog hair” in my vocabulary.  It’s even more confusing to use it around Halloween.  Some folks might get the idea that you are a witch and using frog hair for some kind of spell.

Okay, let me hightail it out of here before I say anything else…

For further reading on strange sayings, check out these books from Amazon:

What In The Sam Hill Are You Doing? (And Other Weird Sayings)

sayingSometimes we say words or phrases that we have either heard or has been passed down to us.  Here are some more of these sayings and why we say them:

“What In The Sam Hill?”

Back when people practiced some restrain in using profanity, some would use substitute phrases such as this one.  Sam Hill was a miner and geologist in the 1800’s in the United States and was known to have a foul mouth.  It is thought that the use of his name is a substitute for using foul language.  (And I had always thought it was SAND Hill!)

“Let’s Bury The Hatchet”

While it sounds fairly violent, it is actually a saying people use to reconcile their differences.  It is thought to have originated with Native Americans as a ceremonial act between tribes when they would come to an agreement by burying their hatchets in the ground.

“Let’s just throw in the towel”

This is usually what someone says when they surrender to a situation.  The term comes from the sport of Boxing.  As soon as a boxer’s coach notices that his fighter had been hit too many times and is no longer able to defend himself, he will throw a towel in the ring to end the fight.

“I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail”

Although not commonly used today, this referred to the quickness that one intends to do something.  A “shake” is a recognized unit of time in how fast a lamb can move its tail.  So if someone says that to you, that means they will do something quickly.

“We’re gonna have a gully washer”

If someone tells you this I suggest you had better get inside.  The term “gully washer” means heavy rain which originated that any gutter or gullys will be cleaned by a downpour of rain.

“I’m fixin to go to the store”

This is a Southern term which dates back to the 14th century when “fix” meant to set one’s eye or mind to do something.  The meaning of getting ready to do something is American in origin and was first recorded in the 18th Century.  When someone tells you this, it means they are getting ready to do something soon.

“I survived by the skin of my teeth”

It sounds like some kind of dental nightmare.  It means to narrowly escape something.  The origin goes back to the Bible and the Book of Job in the passage “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”

“They were looking at me like a deer in headlights”

What presenter hasn’t had this experience?   The phrase refers to the behavior of deer who are caught in the beams of car headlights at night and their tendency to freeze instead of running out of the car’s path.  This means people are staring without comprehending what you are saying.  You might want to repeat it again.

“He/she is a brown-noser”

You’ll hear this term mostly in an office environment around the water cooler (or wherever the office gossipers gather).  It refers to someone who is flattering someone for their own interest such as a promotion or favor.  The origin goes to how dogs greet each other and try to be friendly by sniffing their butts.  Yes, the next time you witness this in the office you’ll laughing as you envision them as dogs.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys”

If you hear this one, don’t worry.  There aren’t any real monkeys around but the term does originate from the circus.  When people say this they mean something isn’t their responsibility or that they are not controlling the situation.