Tag Archives: origin of the expression ‘red tape’

What’s the story behind the word…..?

We are all too familiar with the story behind the expression ‘Achilles Heel’.

To refresh your minds, according to Greek mythology, Achilles’ mother held him by the heels to dip him into the River Styx when he was an infant to make him invincible …. The water washed all over his body, all but his heels where his mother held him, thus making the area vulnerable. That was a big ‘boo boo’ alright. He was supposedly killed by a poisoned arrow shot into his heel by Paris. 

Today the expression Achilles’ Heel” refers to someone’s singular weakness that could bring about his downfall.

More interesting stories below….

Blind Justice meaning : .impartiality…… i.e. ‘justice is blind..’

– NO, it is not to denote that justice is so blind that it convicts the innocent. But, Justice, in Greek status, is personified as a female and she is blindfolded so that she cannot see the bribes that are being offered to her. Make no mistake, she is blind but not deaf, o.k? If not she would not be able to hear the cases presented to her……

Kick the bucket meaning – die

There are many theories to this expression but the most popular one alludes to the act of committing suicide by hanging. You see, in order to hang oneself, you need to tie a rope to a beam or an overhead post which is placed high up. To reach it, you have to stand on a bucket or something. After the rope has been put in place, the victim then has to kick the bucket for the suicide to happen….

Love meaning – zero in the scoring system for tennis

How on earth did this word which is universally known as an affection come to mean ‘zero’ in tennis? Well, the term comes from the french word ‘l’oeuf’, meaning ‘egg’. The French use it to designate ‘no score’ or ‘zero’ because an egg looks like a zero.

Moron derogatory word, slang – meaning – someone who is not so intelligent ….

The term is derived from the Greek word ‘moros’ which means dull. This word was arbitratily given to adults with the mental ages of eight to twelve year olds by Dr. Henry H. Goddard (see pic). He decided to split these individuals into 3 IQ levels ‘s and he was looking for a word to describe the highest group …. and he chose ‘moron’ …..

  • Moron : an IQ of 51-70, being superior in one degree to
  • “imbecile” (IQ of 26-50) and superior in two degrees to
  • “idiot” (IQ of 0-25). 

Take note however it was only  a valid descriptor in the psychological community in the early 1900’s. They are not longer applied as Goddard recanted his earlier theory starting from the 1920’s. However, these words have all now passed into common slang use only.

Quarantine – meaning – put into isolation to prevent spread of disease 

This word comes from the Italian word quaranta, meaning ‘forty’. In early days, a ship suspected of being infected with some contagious disease was kept outside of port for forty days hence the birth of the word “quarantine”.

Raining cats & dogs – meaning – heavy rain storm

This expression comes from Norse mythology – in which the cat symbolizes heavy rain, while the dog, an attendant of Odin, the storm god, represents great blasts of wind. It is befitting to use the cat and dog to symbolise the conflicting elements in a storm given the proverbial enmity of cats and dogs.

Red Tape – meaning – Govt delay

This expression comes literally with the use of ‘red tape’ in tying up official papers in Engliand. For centuries, British Government  officials would follow the time consuming custom of tying and untying red tape which bound the dispatch and document cases which inevitably results in unnecessary delay. Apparently, the practice continues, but the tape is now pink. Oh, cut the red tape will you, ..or should I say ‘pink’ tape?

Sabotage – meaning – a deliberate act to destroy or to hinder something

Believe it or not it comes the French word ‘sabot’ for wooden shoe. There are several theories to explain how the the word came to be. One being, during the railway strike of 1910, when workers destroyed the wooden shoes, or sabots, that held rails in place, thus impeding the morning commute.  An alternate definition, if true, would make the origin of the word older by almost a century, i.e. the times of the Industrial Revolution. It is said that powered looms i.e. weaving machines were damaged by angry or disgruntled workers throwing their wooden shoes into the machinery to clog it. This etymology however, is highly suspect and no wooden shoe sabotage is known to have been reported at the time of origin for the word ……………. Whatever it is, a shoe played the lead role all the way for this word, a wooden one at that!!!

Sack i.e.  ‘get the sack’, meaning – terminated from work 

In the olden days, most tradespeople like artisans and mechanics lived on the job. They brought their own tools to work with them in a ‘sack’.  So when the employer wants them discharged, he would probably give him the sack, a broad hint for the workman to pack up his tools and leave. 

TIP meaning – a little something i.e. money, given as a token of appreciation to people working in the service industry.

This is a good one….. Years ago in English inns and taverns, it was customary for the patrons to drop a coin for the benefit of the waiters into a box placed on the wall. On the box was a little sign which said: To Insure Promptness hence the birth of the word tip!

Well, so many more words, so many stories of origin….. some historical, some borrowed from other languages like Latin, Greek, French……some funny. 

Who said learning English wasn’t fun, eh?