Five Common Phrases That Will Surprise You

“It’s bad to cross”, “to stand aside” … These phrases are often used in our daily life. But are you really sure you know them?

They pass unnoticed in our language, so we are used to hearing them. The French language is full of expressions of more or less known origin. It’s not hard to guess the meaning of expressions such as “drop your sneakers”, “have a corpse in the closet”, or “put a camel in the eye of a needle”. But some of them have an unexpected history. The editors offer you an anthology.

• “Poorly crossed out”

When someone is heading straight for failure or big trouble, we say they have a “bad fight.” But why do we say “poorly locked”? We can think of it as referring to a dead end that will be blocked, preventing any attempt to get through. Think again, it’s not about that. AT 1001 favorite French expressions, Georges Planel sets the context to shed light on the origin of this expression, which comes from… the navy. It comes from the helm of the ships used to steer them. If we are unable to “steer” the boat properly, we are “poorly steered” to bring it into safe harbor!

• “Put an end”

Enough. We must put an end to this unpleasant situation: we put “hola” with the hand forward to signify “stop”. The point of Spanish origin in this expression, “holà” here has nothing to do with the Spanish “holà” which means “hello”. In fact, this expression consists of the aggregate “Ho! Who’s coming?”, an interjection of the end of the 14th century. It was used for calling, for interpellation. One “hol” was enough to stop the team horses. According to Georges Planel, this expression was born in the middle of the 17th century, it was preceded by the words “faire holà” or “say holà” at the end of the last century.

• “Voice”

This man, once powerful, clearly has no say in this matter. When someone is consulted on all sides, they say that he “has the right to vote”, that is, he has the right to interfere in the matter. Contrary to what one might think, this has nothing to do with a chapter in a book. This chapter dates back to the Middle Ages, where the chapter denoted a meeting of monks and canons dealing with the affairs of their community, and the place where this meeting was held. Thus, whoever had a “voice in the head” could participate in decision making for the community.

• “Get up”

“Hold on to the tiles!” How many times have we heard our parents give us this order when we were kids so as not to cause a stir? When someone is on guard or when someone is trying to pass unnoticed, he says that he is “standing with a tile”. Nothing to do with a frame or a square, this expression has its origins in … a crossbow. This ancient weapon had arrows called “bolts” ready to be fired. When one stood guard with his crossbow, it was said of him that he had to “stand straight” in order to be ready to raise his weapon against the enemy. However, there are other interpretations of the origin of this phrase, which in its current form has existed only since the second half of the 19th century. Among them is a card game from which the saying “he who keeps diamonds never loses weight” is taken: he who “holds diamonds” closely monitors his game, who is on guard never loses.

• “Money doesn’t smell”

Really? It is enough to feel how his coins passed from hand to hand and are covered with copper, nickel and zinc to be convinced of the veracity of this expression. But then why do we say that money does not smell? It is true that regardless of the state and origin of the money in our wallet, they retain their value. According to Georges Planel, in fact, this proposal originates in a historical event dating back to Roman times. Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69 to 79 AD, is trying to replenish the treasury of the empire, squandered by his predecessor Nero. To do this, he imposes taxes. Including one about urine intended for use by dyers (to degrease leather). This measure was ridiculed by the people, as Titus, the emperor’s son, reported to his father. In response, the latter puts a coin under his nose and retorts: “He doesn’t feel anything.” Indeed, as long as the money fills the treasury, it does not matter where they come from.


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