Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trivia Phrases

1. Where does the phrase "long in the tooth" come from?

2. How about "over a barrel?"

3. Or, do you know where "to fly off the handle" originated?


  1. 1. Means elderly or old - comes from the fact that you can assess a horse's age by looking at its teeth, as they do not stop growing. The longer the tooth, the older the horse.

    2. Means you're stuck; at someone else's mercy. It originally was a form of punishment, or torture, to tie someone over a barrel, leaving them helpless to defend themselves as they were whipped or simply humiliated.

    3. Refers to losing your temper today. Originally, referred to when a loose ax-head flys off the handle, when swung with enough force.

  2. 1. Bonnie is absolutely correct in that Long in the tooth means elderly or old and that it comes from assessing a horses' age. But, it is not that a horses teeth grow perpetually. Instead their gums recede making it appear as if they have longer teeth.

    2. To "have someone over a barrel" means to hold them in a helpless position. It's original source is actually more benevolent than you would think based on the current use of the phrase. Before better methods for resuscitation were developed, drowning victims were laid over a barrel, which was then rolled back and forth to dislodge the water in their lungs.

    3. Can't argue with Bonnie here. She is absolutely right. :)

    I just LOVE etymology!!!

  3. 1. Horses' teeth do continue to grow - not perpetually - but until they are very old. The gums may recede somewhat, but it is a well-documented fact that horses' teeth continue to erupt over time as they will wear out eating ruffage, and need additional chewing surfaces.

  4. What's etymology? More interestingly, what's the etymology of etymology? Just head over to and look it up!

    1398, from Gk. etymologia, from etymon "true sense" (neut. of etymos "true," related to eteos "true") + logos "word." In classical times, of meanings; later, of histories. Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium.

  5. I enjoy it, too. I always find it fascinating to figure out where a phrase comes from. Unfortunately for me, the reasoning tends to fade from my mind fairly quickly.

    But as for the answer, I think you all have explained them very well and I'll leave it at that.


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