A colloquialism is a phrase with a meaning that makes no sense logically (hmmm, I wonder why that sounds so familiar?). Anyway, I’ve been thinking of a few and thought I’d discover their origin. Most of the information below was derived from my favorite web site http://www.worldwidewords.org/ (I’m not about to plagiarize, the plagiarpolice will come for me).
More Than One Way to Skin a Cat – This is a good one. The phrase was originally said “there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream” or “there are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with butter.” Somehow it evolved into the skinning the cat version because skinning a cat is more fun than choking it. It's a good thing too, 'cause Spouse would not waste his precious butter choking a cat. It appears to me that Mark Twain made it famous by using it in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. This phrase means that when you go hunting, you better take two types of weapons or if you go shopping, take two credit cards (one of them might be over-extended).
Cat Scratch Fever – Ted Nugent. Created after Free For All.
Dead as a Doornail – This one has a bunch of history. Are you ready? First, the term was used somewhere around 1350 and was made famous by our little buddy William when he used it in Henry IV. They say this one has lasted so long because saying “Dead as a Doornail” has a nice poetic rhythm to it (as opposed to saying “dead as a nail” or “dead as that one lady down the street” or “dead as dead if there ever were a dead.”) There are several theories about this one. My favorite theory comes from carpentry when a nail was hammered through something. The something would then be turned over and the back of the nail would be hammered down against the item so that it couldn’t be pulled out easily. This is presumed to be a dead doornail. You mean carpenters you… killin’ all those nails!
Hell in a Handbasket – Not a lot of history on this one. It is known to be a newer American phrase that means something will happen quickly. Using a basket to carry items will allow you to do so with efficient accuracy. Unless of course you have a red hood and you’re in the forest… then the basket is a dead giveaway.
Raining Cats and Dogs – There are a few theories on this one. One of them is that people use to have thatched roofs in which dogs and cats would hide. When it rained, the water would drain through the roof and the cats and dogs would jump out. Another theory is derived from mythology whereby cats and dogs had influence over storms and so when it rained, the dogs and cats were urinating with extreme contempt (maybe Vera was a cat or dog in a previous life).
The Proof Is In the Pudding – Now this one doesn’t make any sense at all. To me it sounds like they’re trying to mix photography and instant desserts. Anyway, the history comes from the word Proof meaning Test. So in order to see if something is correct you need to test it or proof (prove) it. But no one really knows why pudding was chosen instead of say a side of beef (the proof is in the side of beef!) or casserole (the proof is in the casserole! – although this one cannot be used because we all know that you can hide anything in a casserole, so there’s no proving anything there).
My guess for the pudding choice? Before they figured out that horse hooves made good gelatin, it was extremely difficult to get pudding to graduate from the runny stage to the more favorable gelatinous stage. So getting nice thick pudding was proof that you did something right. If my kids turn into thick chocolaty gelatinous beings, does that mean I’m a good parent? I'm sure the PS2 and Hershey can assist me with this.
If you have more suggestions for other colloquialisms, please by all means comment. I’d be happy to do the research.