The History of Some of Today’s Most Common Phrases
Why Do We Say It?
Some of our most common phrases were once thought to be low, vulgar and base. The rise of the criminal class as a vital piece of Elizabethan society prompted, among other things, the introduction of a new language. While the words remained English, the phraseology changed, and so did the meaning. Thus, a cove became a man rather than a secluded beach, flash meant the appearance of high society or wealth (a flash cove therefore was a rich man), and so on and so forth. But as time drew on, some of the phrases lost the stigma of criminal use and were accepted into the language of everyday people.
In 1785, etymologist Francis Grose produced The Vulgar Tongue, a dictionary of slang, sea-terms, thieves’ cant and other less-savory phrases. His point, in doing so, was to educate those in higher society as to what some of the phrases heard at cock-fights and bear-baiting really meant. The result, however, is a wonderful snapshot in linguistic time, a resource unequalled in its richness and history. From his work we can draw the history of some of our most common phrases today.