Phrase Origins

Winter 2002 CSANews Issue 45  |  Posted date : Apr 12, 2007.Back to list

Baths in the 1500s consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then any other men, then the women and finally the children -- last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it, hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs -- thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, rats and bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof; hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."

Floors were made of dirt. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread "thresh" (the straw left over after threshing grain) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more and more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. To prevent this, a piece of wood was placed in the entranceway; hence, a "thresh hold."

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, the "upper crust."

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock people out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait to see if they would wake up -- hence, the custom of holding a "wake."