Whoever said history was boring? Now don’t be grossed out – these sayings are history at its best.
In the olden days, baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of nice clean water (of course). All the other sons and men went next, then the women and finally the children. Last of all were the babies. By that time 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!
Also hundreds of years ago, urine was used to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. Once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive, you were – piss poor. Don’t take offense; it’s just an old expression. But worse than that were the really poor folks 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. Oh no, there’s that P word again.
In those times, houses had thatched roofs with thick straw-piled high and no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs, ugh!) 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.
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.
In these early homes, the floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the term – dirt poor.
The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the 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 entranceway. Hence – a thresh hold.
In those old days, people 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 didn’t get much meat. The people 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, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”
Sometimes the family 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, which has come to mean taking.
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burned bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the – upper crust.
Now, you will find this interesting: lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination of lead and alcohol would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. In those days that lacked scientific knowledge, someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of – holding a wake.
In this same vein, in old, small villages, local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and then 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 came the custom of tying a string on the wrist of the corpse, which was then fed through the coffin and up through the ground and tied 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.
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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