▶️ Little Did I Know: Letting the cat out of the bag on common idioms

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We’ve all heard phrases like “don’t take any wooden nickels,” “break a leg” or “don’t beat around the bush.” but have you ever really stopped and wondered how they got their start in the English language?

Good Morning Central Oregon anchors Scott Elnes and Megan Sinclair started asking each other that question a couple of months ago and little did we know that Megan would turn out to be so good at “Little Did I Know.” 

To see their fun banter and how Megan may be trying to take over the franchise (just kidding), watch the video above. Below, you can read what they learned about some old sayings we all use.

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Under the weather

Not too surprisingly, the phrase under the weather comes to us from the maritime world. It referred to a ship sailing into the wind or against the wind. When a ship sailed under the weather, it faced much more challenging and rough seas, often causing discomfort and seasickness among the crew. Over time, the association between difficult sailing conditions and feeling unwell extended to general usage, leading to the figurative use of the phrase to describe someone who is not in good health.

Let the cat out of the bag

One popular theory about the origin of the phrase involves marketplaces and deceitful practices. In the past, piglets were sometimes sold in bags and dishonest sellers might substitute a less valuable animal like a cat in the bag. The buyer would only discover the deception when the cat was let out of the bag. This phrase has thus come to symbolize a revelation of a hidden truth or a secret.

Don’t cry over spilled milk

One theory suggests that the phrase may have originated in farming communities where the spilling of milk was a relatively common and inevitable occurrence. In such a context, it would be impractical and counterproductive to lament the loss of spilled milk, since it could be recovered anyway. The idea of not dwelling on small, unchangeable misfortunes likely resonated with people beyond the agricultural setting, leading to the phrase becoming a more widespread idiom. By the early 20th century, it had become a well-established piece of advice.

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