13 everyday phrases that make no sense

Balls to the wall, everyone.


The English language is undoubtedly very beautiful. But equally, it can be very confusing – is it any wonder people complain it’s so hard to learn?

Just like these idioms that, when you consider them, are just a whole load of ridiculous. Observe...

  1. 1 'Don't let the cat out of the bag'

    A few questions: why is the cat in the bag? Whoever put a cat in a bag? Surely it'd be really quite hard to keep it trapped in the bag. Someone call the RSPCA.

    The origin is also pleasingly ridic:

    In the olden days, farmers would bring suckling pigs to market wrapped up in a bag. But naughty, sneaky farmers would substitute that pig for a cat.

    So if someone let the cat out of the bag, they would be found out and shamed for the deceitful whatsit they were.

  2. 2 ‘You've made your bed, now you're going to have to lie in it’

    Well, yeah – isn’t that kind of the point? Surely it’s better to have a nicely-made bed? Normally we just straighten the duvet a bit on a special occasion.

    Actually, this goes back to the days when you actually had to build (make) your own bed - quilts, eiderdowns, and all that.

    So if you've done a shoddy job, you're the one to blame if it's uncomfortable.

  3. 3 ‘Don’t beat around the bush’

    Our mind's gut reaction just says pubes (sorry). However after overthinking this - as we have - it conjures up images of posh people going pheasant shooting.

    And that’s not actually far from the truth.

    The saying comes from hunting where you must beat bushes to force the animals out of them and into the open.

    The more nervy hunters would ‘beat about the bush’; make a show of finding and killing their prey, but not actually doing so.

  4. 4 'Are your ears burning?'

    When you stop to consider this, burning ears should never be taken so casually. Burning ears should be taken to A&E immediately.

    The phrase is believed to come from the Romans being weirdly obsessed with tingling body parts – they thought that sensations like this signalled something other than just a bodily function, and in the case of your ears, it was a sign you were being discussed by others.

  5. 5 'Chew the fat'

    This would be a really gross predicament to find oneself in. While we're all for a bit of crackling, out of all the things a person could chew, a lump of fat has to be pretty unappetising.

    Apparently this phrase comes courtesy of sailors, who used to do literally that and chew on salt-hardened fat while on their breaks. Like an olden-days bag of pork scratchings.

  6. 6 'The proof is in the pudding'

    It’s in there and it needs to come out! CAN SOMEONE EAT THE PUDDING? WHAT TYPE OF PUDDING IS IT ANYWAY? Mmmm we really want a pudding now. We hope it’s one of those steamed M&S chocolate ones.

    This one started off its nonsensical life as ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, which sort of makes sense.

    However that was a bit of a mouthful, so it was shortened and will forever make no sense whatsoever.

  7. 7 'More than you can shake a stick at!'

    In what real-life situation does anyone shake a stick? In fact, who, once over the age of six, ever comes into contact with a stick? And why the heck are they shaking it around? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

    Basically, no one is really sure where this gibberish comes from apart from that it came into use in the 1800s. Some people reckon it’s got military roots while others say it was probably something to do with counting animals.

    The long and short of it is that there's no one certified origin. There are more than you can shake a stick at. Oh...

  8. 8 'Wrong end of the stick'

    Which end is the wrong end? Is this the same stick you were previously shaking around like a lunatic? Why the obsession with sticks, please? Maybe you need fewer sticks in your life.

    Again, no one is 100% sure on this whole stick business – sticks were obviously very elusive in the 1880s – however, it’s thought it could be something to do with the fact that out houses used sticks instead of toilet paper and if you were unlucky you could accidentally grab the ‘wrong end’.

  9. 9 'A little bird told me'

    OK, so birds can’t actually speak but even so, why is the bird little? And why are you taking advice from growth-stunted foul? Did the bird use sign language or are you now temporarily Dr Dolittle?

    It’s believed the phrase could just be alluding to a carrier pigeon. Which actually makes perfect sense.

    In fact, you could say that…

  10. 10 'The penny has dropped'

    Which plunges us back into the abyss of nonsense. Dropped from where? Why are you throwing pennies around, anyway? We thought you were shaking a stick. Damn, you are good at multitasking.

    In actual fact, this was first used by the Daily Mirror in 1939 and is referencing the noise of a penny-in-the-slot machine. Often, the slot jammed and you had to wait for it to drop.

  11. 11 'Balls to the wall'

    Er, who are you to tell me when and where my balls should be? This is the 21st century and I will put them wherever I please. If that happens to be on the wall, then so be it. If not then I will deal with the consequences.

    This phrase actually comes from aviation - when accelerating quickly, the throttle is pushed all the way to the panel and the throttle lever (ball) actually touches the panel (wall).

    So no, nothing to do with testicles. You pervert.

  12. 12 'Steal their thunder'

    If you’re going to dabble in petty crime then we’d suggest something a little more, well, physical. Or maybe ‘thunder’ is ye olde English for ‘iPhone’. Not that we would endorse that. It’s just, y’know, more worth the thievery.

    But its origins are pretty cute. This 18th century playwright called John Dennis claimed to have invented a machine that could mimic the sound of thunder in the theatre. WIN.

    However, when rivals used the same trick, John was absolutely devo and complained they’d ‘stolen his thunder’. Because they literally had.

    Featured image: frankieleon