The Cat is Now Out of the Bag
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…This doesn’t mean I had a cat in my bag. It is an idiom used to convey that a secret has been given away.
We often use such phrases while communicating. Their meanings could have you scratching your head. However, the meaning of most idioms is rooted in their origin. For example, the origin of the expression ‘to let the cat out of the bag’ alludes to the practice of shrewd merchants who would substitute a cat for a valuable pig. This would be discovered by the buyer only when he opened the bag and let the cat out!
We picked out other such colourful idioms that are used every day at the workplace. Their origins range from interesting to bizarre.
Blow one’s own trumpet
Meaning: Brag about oneself
Origin: This expression was first recorded by Anthony Trollope in his 1873 work Australia and New Zealand.
Example: “Every office has one person who blows his own trumpet in front of the management.”
Pot calling the kettle black
Meaning: A situation in which one person criticises another for a fault they have themselves
Origin: This expression has its origins in the medieval kitchen when both pots and kettles were made from sturdy cast iron and both would get black with soot from the open fire.
Example: “She accused me of being tardy. Talk about pot calling the kettle black!”
Once in a blue moon
Origin: It is believed that the word “blue” may have come from the now obsolete word “belewe” which meant “to betray”. The “betrayer moon” was an additional spring full moon that would mean people would have to fast for an extra month during Lent. The saying in its present meaning is first recorded in 1821.
Example: “She meets her deadlines once in a blue moon.”
Show true colours
Meaning: To let others see what someone/something is really like. It usually has negative connotations.
Origin: Some time ago, ships used to be identified mainly by the flags they flew to show which country they belonged. However, pirates would often sail under fake flags from various countries and would eventually show their true colours by hoisting the pirate flag once they had conquered the other ship.
Example: “By betraying her, he showed his true colours.”
Bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: To decide or agree to do more than one can finally accomplish.
Origin: The phrase dates back to nineteenth-century America, where it was common practice to chew tobacco. People would offer others a bite of their tobacco block, and some would take a bite larger than they could possibly chew.
Example: “I told her not to bite off more than she can chew. She has worn herself out working overtime.”
Feeling under the weather
Meaning: Indisposed; slightly ill
Origin: In the old days, when a sailor was unwell he was sent down below deck to recover away from the weather.
Example: She hasn’t come to work today as she is feeling under the weather.
Burn the candle on both ends
Meaning: to work very hard and stay up very late at night.
Origin: The phrase, which came originally from a French expression, came to mean working so hard that you burn yourself out. Candles were once an expensive item and to burn one at both ends implied wasting valuable resources to achieve an obsession.
Example: “No wonder she has been feeling under the weather. She has been burning the candle on both ends for a long time.”
Heard through a grapevine
Meaning: to hear rumours
Origin: The wires utilised in America’s first telegraph stations often times swooped and twisted in random patterns. Professionals and onlookers alike believed the tangled masses resembled grapevines – giving birth to the common idiom used today. Although another account says the expression originated during the American Civil War, when telegraph wires were strung from tree to tree like vines.
Example: “I heard through the grapevine that they are planning to promote Arun to Project Manager.”
Piece of cake
Meaning: Something that is very easy to do or achieve.
Origin: The origin of the phrase goes back to at least the 1930s and the term was recorded officially for the first time by the American poet Ogden Nash. In his poem The Primrose Path, there is a verse: “Her picture’s in the papers now, / And life’s a piece of cake.”
Example: “The assignment was a piece of cake”
To hit the nail on the head
Meaning: to do or say a thing in the right way
Origin: The idiom appears for the first time in 1438 in The Book of Margery Kempe, even though many scholars believe that the idiom in Kempe’s book isn’t entirely clear.
Example: “You hit the nail on the head when you said the company needed restructuring”