After several conversation appointments where I was asked about the origin of common phrases, I had to ask: what does it mean to “scream bloody murder”? What is a “sight for sore eyes” and when did we start saying “sour grapes”? Thankfully, a quick Google search turned up the The Phrase Finder. This database is an invaluable resource for appointments and an enjoyable look at weird phrases’ origins for the interested reader.
The Phase Finder is something I’ll be using in my appointments from now on but it’s also wonderful for the casual reader. Funny, informative entries feature definitions and origins, but also commentary like this paragraph in the entry for “Guts for garters”:
Whether that was a literal threat and whether people did actually make garters of the guts of their enemies is open to question. I can find no direct evidence of a documented example of such a practice, but it is certainly quite plausible. Worse things happened; the punishment of ‘hanged, drawn and quartered‘ was on the statue book in England until as late as 1790.
English nerds rejoice, you can finally learn the origin of “gee whiz,” “upper crust,” and “neither here nor there.” You can even sign up to receive a word origin in your inbox every week. There are separate pages for phrases of Biblical, Shakespearean or nautical origin. Even if you wish it was more extensive (I know there are a few I’d love to see here), The Phrase Finder is a great find.