Where Did That Come From?

Ever wondered where some of those oh so familiar sayings originated?

There is much to be grateful for when you consider life from that perspective:

Piss Poor

Back in the day urine was used to tan animal skins. People  used to collect all their pee in a pot. Once a   day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”  But worse than that, the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot  “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low.These days we just push the button, flush it away and wash our hands (I hope). 

Life back in the 1500’s was tough. Think about this :

Personal hygiene

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May. So BO was still pretty tolerable in June. But it was starting to pong a bit. That’s why brides carried a bouquet of flowers  – to hide the smell! Think about that next time you go to a wedding…..

Baths, as you would have gathered by now were a rare thing back then. A big tub was filled with hot water. The man of the house got first go. Clean, hot, fresh water. I know, pretty sexist, right? BUT it gets worse. The rest of the menfolk followed. Then the women. Then the kids. And last of all – the babies.  By then the water was getting pretty dirty – you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”


Houses had thatched roofs – thick straw- piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice and bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Yeewww!!! The solution? A bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the rich could afford proper flooring. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The rich nobs had slate floors.  They got slippery when wet. Think winter.  The solution was to spread thresh (straw) on the floor to stop them slipping and sliding all over the place. They just kept adding more thresh. By the end of winter there was a LOT of it. When the door was opened, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

Cooking was done with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day the  fire was lit. Things got added to the pot.  Mostly vegetables. Meat was too expensive.  The stew brewed all day and got eaten for dinner. The rest was left in the pot to get cold overnight. And the next morning, it all started again. Hmmm – I wonder how many people got sick or worse ? Sometimes the stew was – umh, well ripened. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

It was a special feast if a bit of pork turned up.  When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little bit to share with guests. And they would all sit around and chewing the fat.

The rich could afford crockery.  Plates were made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach into the food. Guess what – lead poisoning. Tomatoes were notorious for this  so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were thought to be  poisonous.

Bread, the staff of life, was apportioned according to how important you were too. The lowly workers copped the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Life and death

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock those imbibing in the good stuff out for a couple of days. Taken for dead they were taken and prepared for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days.  The family gathered around, eating and drinking and waiting to see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small.  They started to run out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and take the bones to a bone-house. That meant the graves could be re-used. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. People were being buried alive!  So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, push it through the coffin up to the ground and tie it to a bell. Thus began the graveyard shift. Someone would have to sit up and listen for the bell. If you were the lucky dead ringer you were saved by the bell.

Still feel hard done by?

© Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace
Your life does not get better by chance.
It gets better by change.
Jim Rohn

13 thoughts on “Where Did That Come From?

  1. Interesting about the soup. When I grew up, we lived with our grandmother. There was always a pot of soup on the stove. She added to it and boiled it up every day. I suppose, now and again she would make a ‘new soup’ but I don’t remember that. Everyone snacked on the soup, helping themselves. No one got sick. All bones and vegetable bits went into it – she never wasted a thing!

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