Now you’ve made the chicken suspicious.
Here’s an interesting one for you:
What does “beating around the bush” mean? What does it actually refer to?
How about “Red herring”? …or “beggars belief”? “All the rage?”
What about “hedge your bets?” or “Saved by the skin of your teeth?”
I bet you’ve said most if not all of these odd little phrases at some point, knowing full well what they mean in the context of when you are using them, but not understanding their origin. This really interests me, as it shows in practice us hearing a phrase, understanding its use in a certain context, then regurgitating it in similar contexts in the future, never actually understanding it.
For example, when my friend was younger, she heard her mum saying “honestly,” when she was outraged/ exasperated at something. Being young, she misheard the word, and picked it up as “annesley”
Now, until recently –and I mean very recently- she was still using “annesley”. But she was using it correctly, i.e. in the context of “honestly.” So she understood how to use the word, but never paused to consider the meaning of the word she was using.
I am not trying to put forward a case for searching for the origin of every word we use, but we do usually fully understand each piece of language we write or speak.
I’m just contemplating what would happen if we all misheard/ misinterpreted words/ phrases and never stopped to think “what does this actually mean?”
Maybe we would become better attuned to the context that phrases are said in, rather than focussing on the phrases themselves.
Maybe we would spend more time looking for further clarification on a word/ phrase
Or maybe we would lose the ability to communicate altogether and end up babbling in an incoherent mess!!!
But… In all probability, we would just all carry on as normal, pretending to understand, using a phrase only in the context it was first used, and refusing to ask for clarification of its meaning/ origin out of laziness, or for fear of coming across as an idiot 😛