English Language: The Weird and Wonderful

For those of you learning the English language as a second language, you might stumble across some strange phrases now again. In our Morning Meetings at Inspire, we learn a Phrase of the Day, which students have to try and use in context throughout the day to score points for their team. So, we thought we’d take a peek at the meaning behind some of our weird and wonderful phrases…

1. Let the Cat out of the Bag – the meaning of this bizarre phrase is to divulge a secret. The origin of such a phrase comes from a farming tradition. Farmers would bring suckling pigs to market in a bag. Sometimes, farmers would try and get away with putting a cat in a bag and selling it, rather than a more valuable suckling pig. If someone let the cat out of the bag, the truth would come out.

2. Beat about the Bush – this phrase means to avoid the issue. The phrase originates from hunting, when beaters would noisily beat bushes to make birds fly out into the open. If a beater was unwilling, he would beat about the bush reluctantly rather than driving the birds to their death.

3. Raining Cats and Dogs – to foreigners, this often seems one of our most peculiar phrases! It means to rain heavily and is rooted in Norse mythology. Originally, cats symbolised heavy rain. Whereas, dogs symbolised howling winds because they were linked to Odin, the storm god.

4. Barking up the Wrong Tree – another hunting term that means to make a mistake or a false assumption about something you are trying to achieve. Hunting dogs were known for literally barking up the wrong tree, mistakenly thinking their prey were hiding up there when they were in another tree.

5. Butter someone up – this phrase means to impress someone with flattery. It originates from religious acts in Ancient India. Devout Indians would throw butter balls at statues of their gods to please them and ask for forgiveness.

Hopefully, now you are little more prepared for Phrase of the Day! We look forward to hearing you use our weird and wonderful phrases, and learning some of your own from your country.

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