• 6th March, 2013

The poor origins of our rich language

The poor origins of our rich language

We came upon a post on Facebook which we wanted to share with you all…

“Next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

A long, long time ago they used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery…….if you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”.
But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot……they “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were considered the lowest of the low.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and the children, and last of all, the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it, hence the saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Bye, bye, baby!

Houses had thatched roofs; thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof, hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

The floor was made of dirt, only the wealthy had something other than dirt for a floor, hence the saying, “dirt poor”.
The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh, or straw as we know it, onto floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence, “the threshold”.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and not very much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old.”

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon”. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat”.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust”.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive… So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (“the graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell” or considered “a dead ringer”.

Saved by the bell

Now, whoever said history was boring?”

It truly is a great story but, alas, we can neither confirm nor deny the origins of these expressions. We can, however, guarantee that events in our history shape our language; we can only imagine what the future of our mother tongue holds.


We hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through language history!

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See you later, alligator!

(If anyone knows where that came from please let us know!)

Posted in : Languages Online

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