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Grandma’s Philosophy – The origins of some old English sayings

I sometimes wonder where a number of modern-day phrases came from. My Grandmother was always saying something that didn’t quite make sense to my younger self.

Stir with a knife – stir with strife” used to get a bemused look as a response from me. If a knife is all I had to hand, why not stir her cup of tea with it – it was clean! Apparently, it was deemed an indication of “downstairs origin” (being a member of the lower class) to stir one’s tea with anything other than a spoon; preferably a silver one. My Grandmother kept a single silver spoon just for this purpose!

On the subject of spoons; the phrase “Born with a silver spoon in their mouth” is born with a silver spoonwidely accepted to mean that a person is born into wealth, or describes someone who has aspirations of a high standing in society. This leads me onto one of my favourite English sayings..

Fur coat but no underwear”. This suggests that a person has a self-image or outward appearance of being wealthy or of higher moral code, but actually has no or very little material wealth to speak of, or has questionable morals.

Speaking with “A plum in your mouth”. Have you ever tried? It certainly changes the way you talk. This one we know means that a person speaks with a “posh” accent – whether intentionally or not.

How about, “Shoes on the table is unlucky”. The origin of this one was apparently to deter people from placing shoes – new or old onto the table where the household food would be prepared or eaten. The original word would have been “mucky”, but as people were more superstitious, “unlucky” had more of an impetus. Makes sense really – hygiene and all that!

Do you have a favourite old saying in English or any other language? Let us know!

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Grandma's Philosophy - The origins of some old English sayings
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Grandma's Philosophy - The origins of some old English sayings
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Some sayings which originated with past generations still ring true today. We discuss where they came from and how and why they're used.
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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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