Intellectual Takeout: Feed Your Mind (intellectualtakeout.org) — my brother Pete just introduced me to this site and it offers lots of food for thought. Pete also passed on a fun article about popular phrases that have a long and color history — and some of which hail back to the Middle Ages. Here’s a sampling:
The apple of one’s eye: In Anglo-Saxon England, the pupil of eye was called, “the apple,” since it was believed to be an apple-shaped solid. Since the pupil is so delicate and crucial to sight, it is to be cherished and protected. Over time, this phrase came to mean a much loved person.
To curry favor: In a 14th century romance, a horse symbolizing hypocrisy and deceit is carefully groomed by other characters in order to win his favor and assistance. It didn’t take long before people began accusing those who sought to further their own ends through flattery of “currying favor.”
Devil’s Advocate: In the Roman Catholic church, this was the popular title given to the official whose job it was to argue against the potential canonization of a saint by citing all the evidence that argued against the claim.
A nest egg: When collecting eggs, 14th century farmers would leave one egg in the nest in order to encourage their chickens to continue laying eggs in the same nest. By the 17th century, the phrase, creating “a nest egg” came to mean setting aside a sum of money for the future.
To sink or swim: This phrase evolved from “the water ordeal” — a medieval practice which judged whether a person was innocent or guilty by dropping him or her into a lake. It was believed that water would not accept anyone who had rejected the water of baptism, so if someone sank, they were judged innocent and if they floated, guilty.
By hook or by crook: It’s believed that this phrase dates back to the 14th century, when medieval law about collecting firewood allowed peasants to take only what they could cut from a dead tree using a reaper’s hook or shepherd’s crook.
Fascinating, isn’t it, how remarkably resilient words are? Write on!