Idioms I Don’t Understand

Eddie Pensier writes:

My usage of the cliché “paying through the nose” in my previous Linkage led me to ponder the origins of some idioms, similes and metaphors whose meanings are more obscure than perhaps they ought to be. I imagine “paying through the nose” implies a painfully high price, but how did it get started? And would any merchant of anything accept a payment that came to them covered in snot?

happy as a clam–Really, are they happy? Happier than humans, or are we using other molluscs as the happiness baseline? How would we know? Would they be happy if they knew they were about to be deep fried or drowned in pasta sauce?

clean as a whistle–I wouldn’t think whistles would be very clean, what with all the germs and spit. Kind of disgusting, actually.

easy as pie–The person who first said this has obviously never made a pie: they’re really difficult.

getting along like two cats in a sack–I value my own blood and prefer that it remain inside my body, so I have not actually tested this. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were to place my two cats in a sack, they would be (not to put too fine a point on it) distressed.

as sick as a dog–Dogs in my experience don’t sicken as much as humans do.

they robbed me blind–Has anyone in history, ever, gone blind as a result of being robbed?

Share other examples of senseless sayings in the comments. If you have plausible explanations for the ones above, share those as well.

About Eddie Pensier

Television junkie, opera buff, connoisseur of unhealthy foods, fashion watcher, art lover and admirer of beautiful people of all sexes.
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8 Responses to Idioms I Don’t Understand

  1. Marc Pisco says:

    Don’t dogs puke a lot? I always figured that’s what that one was.

    How about “raining cats and dogs”.


  2. Will S. says:

    “Pretty as a peach” – peaches are tasty, and admittedly, they generally have a pleasant appearance, but I’ve never looked at one and thought, “Wow; that peach is sure attractive!”.


  3. James Taylor says:

    Most of these expressions are fairly easy to pin down: google “origin of expression ____” and you should find a satisfactory answer. For instance, “easy as pie” is an English idiom originating not in the making but the eating of pie. It’s much like the Americanism, “it’a a piece to cake” to indicate something easy to do. It’s the eating, not the making, in both instances. I’m an old librarian– I still use Fowler’s, Partridges, and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.


  4. peterike says:

    “Clean as a whistle” refers to “whistle” as a sound, not a thing. Clean as the sound of a whistle.


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  6. Sam says:

    “getting along like two cats in a sack”
    You must hear this used incorrectly. The correct way to use this is to describe two people who don’t get along. Then it’s rather self explanatory because you can imagine if you stuck two cats in a sack they would tear each other to pieces.


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