Origins of phrases! Sinister beginnings that you maybe never even knew.....

@James72 (26829)
Australia
June 4, 2009 3:03am CST
I was sitting here thinking back to a discussion a few months back where the term "rule of thumb" was used and then it was mentioned that the term came about because there was an old law that said that a Wife couldn't be beaten by a rod thicker than a man's thumb! This made me think of other phrases we use that might also have not so happy origins. So far I've managed to recall the following: "Bless You!" - Many of us will say this to someone when we sneeze and I personally say it EVERY time someone does. Apparently it is said because it was once believed that when a person sneezed, their soul left their body and by saying "Bless you!", the soul would return to the body before the devil could take it! "Ring a ring a rosie" - (A pocket full of posies, atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down).... This nursery rhyme (If we are to call it that) is known by most people I'm sure; but what many may not realise is that this rhyme dates back to the Black Plague! Kids used to sing it when playing. Posies were apparently kept in people's pockets as a talisman of sorts to ward off the Plague; and the atishoo, atishoo part was representational of people WITH the Plague getting sick and falling down dead! These are just a few that I know off the top of my head..... Were you aware of any of these origins already? Do you know of any others? If so, I'd love to hear them!
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18 responses
@Theresaaiza (10484)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
I have read of the origin of raining cats and dogs but then some dismissed it as being just a tale. According to the tale, people used to live in thatched roofs where the straw were just piled on top of each other and nothing was supporting it underneath like wood or whatever. The dogs, the cats, and the mice all lived in the roof . (And I wonder why they actually loved such elevation). So that when the storm came in, they all slipped and fell to the floor. Thus the phrase, "raining cats and dogs". But a lot of people disagree that this was its real origin.
2 people like this
@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
Interesting! It could've been because they were sick and tired of all the fighting that went on up there, butI wonder why people decided to stop storing their cats, mice and dogs in the roof then? Were they sick of waking up in the middle of the night during a storm and accidentally stepping in a poodle?
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@Theresaaiza (10484)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
I really have no solid answers to those questions James. All I know is that up to now, even with G.I roofing, some alley cats are still as noisy as a rock concert for sopranos especially during mating season.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
Sounds, ummmmmmm...... Peachy! I wonder if this is how they came up with the concept for the musical "Cats"?
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@hiddenwing (3721)
• China
4 Jun 09
I don't think I am wise enough to get this one! Just so you know, my English is very bad. Hmmm, let me have a try! First, I had wondered the origins of panda spanking for a long time. See, I just asked a question in a word forum long long ago! Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Have you spanked a Panda today? No? Then HERE is where you do it!" I don't quite get it? Does the guy really want to spank the lovely panda? Thanks for your attention! Re: Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I doubt it, somehow. What is the context? Where is this strange request from? Re: Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The guy said that " Panda spanking and all out craziness is what we need once in a while so don't be shy! " I was confuesed. Does anyone tell me what does "spanked a panda" mean? Re: Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi, Cropje_jnr has asked where this text comes from, and I second that. Please, tell us where you came across this. Re: Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Oh, I read this on net. Without the guy's agreement, I don't know weather it is appropriate to ask a question about his dicussion. Anyway, if he happens to notice my question here, I just beg for his pardon anyway. "Have you spanked a Panda today? No? Then HERE is where you do it! WE all have days or moments where we wish to step completely outside of our normal and expected behaviours and let loose once in a while! You know what I mean right? People post discussions on a whole range of serious topics from politics to relationships and current affairs etc; yet you get this sudden urge to just do something silly. Something quirky. Something TOTALLY unexpected so that people will look at what you have just shared and say WTF??? Who's with me?" The passage above is the "spanked a panda" thing I have been confused. It comes from a dicussion on net. I've already listed all of them. Thanks for your time! Best regards! Re: Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- " do something silly. Something quirky. Something TOTALLY unexpected" Herein lies the key to your writer's meaning. Spanking a panda is something totally absurd and incongruous. It's something that no one would ever think of doing. It's similar to a phrase on an old bumper-sticker: "Nuke the whales"—entirely out of the question. Re: Is " spanked a panda" an idiom or a slang or something? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks a lot for your response. I get it! Wish you all the best for your work or study!
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
I think now I'M confused too hiddenwing! But there's no question that you've covered the meaning of panda spanking amongst all of those words, that's for sure! As for going belly-up, this is definitely a term I've used before myself, so it's good to know the origins! I used to own a lot of goldfish and they went belly up all the time!
2 people like this
• United States
4 Jun 09
Should have fed them properly, James. Just sayin
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
You're supposed to feed 'em???
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@mimpi1911 (25454)
• India
8 Jun 09
I did not know about the Thumb's rule and I think that is not a pleasant origin or whatever.Here are some origin of phrases I dug out for you. Pushing the envelope Meaning - To approach or exceed known performance boundaries. Origin - This expression came from the USAF test pilot program of the late 1940's. It meant flying an aircraft at or beyond its known performance envelope or recommended limits. Pass the buck Meaning - Pass off responsibility to someone else. Origin - A marker known as a buck is used in card games to mark the player who is the current dealer. When the buck is passed to the next player, the responsibility for dealing is passed. The buck stops here Meaning - To take responsibility for something. Origin - This expression is the opposite of the previous phrase "Pass the buck". Crocodile tears Meaning - Phony tears, usually shed to manipulate or exploit. Origin - Sunning crocodiles often keep their mouths wide open and this pressurizes the tear glands to shed tears. It is thought that these fake tears - not produced from any emotional response - help in digesting the meal. Flash in the pan Meaning - A thing of great promise that doesn't live up to expectations. Origin - This expression comes from the Gold Rush days when prospectors glimpsed a flash of gold in their pan, but it actually came to nothing. Albatross around your neck Meaning - Weighed down by a past misdeed or deep shame. Origin - This expression comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". The captain in the poem killed an albatross (a symbol of good luck) and this was thought to be the reason for the wind dropping and the ship being rendered motionless. Between a rock and a hard place Meaning - Not left with any good choices. Origin - This expression arises from the Greek Classics. Odysseus had to pass between the monster Scylla and the deadly whirlpool Charydbis. I'll be a monkey's uncle Meaning - Get off, it can't be true, I can't believe it, how can it be true? Origin - We must blame Darwin for this one. Or rather the non-believers in his theory.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
8 Jun 09
This is a great set of examples here mimpi! Crocodile Tears is a well know saying, but I bet many people didn't know the origins! I's think though that in most cases, crocodiles would induce tears of fear in others rather than cry themselves! lol. Many of these terms are commonly used by a lot of people, so thanks for shedding some light on how they all came to be. Brilliant! Or should I say - "Well I'll be a monkey's uncle! Is THIS how all these sayings came about? Who woulda believed it!"
@mimpi1911 (25454)
• India
8 Jun 09
LOL... Some really have fun origin and if we sit and begin to study it will take ages and we would never want it to end. Thanks James for this.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
8 Jun 09
I've always loved learning about words and their origins etc. Etymology! I'm glad to see you've enjoyed the topic too. Your own additions were ideal!
@ersmommy1 (12600)
• United States
6 Jun 09
I knew about the ring around the rosie. As for the rule of thumb, as a woman all I can say is I'm glad times have changed!In German they say "Gesundheit!which apparently means good health.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
From my limited memory of German language courses during my school days, I think you're right on the gesundheit front. That rule of thumb law sure was a horrific one! The worse thing of all is that this law wasn't abolished as long ago as people might think. It was during the mid to late 1800's I think?
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@dawnald (84146)
• Shingle Springs, California
7 Jun 09
Gesundheit is the German word for health, yep. Gute Nacht (good night). lol
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@dawnald (84146)
• Shingle Springs, California
7 Jun 09
Guten Abend, Gute Nacht... close...
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@alokn99 (5717)
• India
4 Jun 09
These are quite interesting James. While i've come across a few, i'm not sure how sinister they sound. Thought i'd share them anyway. Face the music : Originates from the British Military practice of playing the drums when someone was court marshaled Mumbo jumbo: Has something to do with an African God Wolf in sheep's clothing : I think has it's origin from the Aesop's Fables. Will think of a few more and see if i can add them as well.
@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
I remember Aesop's Fables well! Yes, I do believe the wolf in sheep's clothing originates from one of them too. The Military reference "Face the music" you gave is a great example of sinister origins and it's a new one for me to be hearing as well. I just read another exaample regarding the term "got up on the wrong side of the bed"..... Apparently this originates back to a superstition that placing the left foot on the ground first when arising, was considered to be bad luck! A similar belief existed when it came to entering a house as well and it was considered to be bad luck to do so with the left foot first. I've always known "Mumbo Jumbo" as a phrase, but have no idea of it's origins. I wonder what African God it alludes to then?
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
Ah, here we go! Mumbo Jumbo - "The phrase probably originated from the Mandingo name Maamajomboo, which was a masked dancer that took part in religious ceremonies. In the 18th century Mumbo-jumbo referred to a West African god." I found this reference here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/mumbo-jumbo.html
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@loudcry (1044)
• India
11 Jun 09
Here's one more Pay through the nose- to pay a heavy price The vikings imposed what they reffered to as 'nose tax', because they slit the nose with a knife if somebody did not pay.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
11 Jun 09
Ouch! That sounds horrific! If I ever go to Norway or any other country with a Viking history, I'll be sure to pay everyone!
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@sulynsi (2836)
• Canada
4 Jun 09
AHHHH Etymology! A lovely place to be! Where to start......*leans back in chair, feet up on desk-enters dream like state*
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
Oh oh, here comes the wordsmith! lol. And Etymology? What the heck does the study of bugs have to do with this discussion? LMAO
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@sulynsi (2836)
• Canada
4 Jun 09
I know you're just trying to bug me, but I don't mean entomology, study of insects, by etymology, study of words and their origins. Would a fly, by any other name, be just as annoying? What if we called them "sits", would that help?
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
All I know about flies is that if they had no wings, they'd be called a "walk". Other than that angle, I guess that yes, they'd still be flies no matter what we decided to call 'em. But even WITH their wings, if they're not actually flying at the time, can we still call them flies? Maybe when they're not flying we could call them recalcitrants or loiterers? Ah stuff it, let's just keep calling 'em flies no matter the circumstance. Far less confusing this way!
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• United States
5 Jun 09
Hi! I have heard of the saying about ring around the rosie before about a couple months ago. Now the one with Bless You when you sneeze I didn't know that one. I never heard of the soul leaving the body every time you sneeze. But the black plague for the rhyme yes. Didn't know about the flowers in the pocket either. I don't know of others. Thank you for sharing this.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
You're welcome strawberrybaby. I've always been fascinated with words, phrases and their origins. It's quite an eye opener to find out that so many common sayings and rhymes etc that we consider harmless, actually have some macabre and sinister origins! They seem so innocent on the surface!
• United States
6 Jun 09
Some times I wonder now what other things are out there like that. That we don't know about. I wouldn't have none some of that stuff if you wouldn't have said anything in your post. I just always thought it was a kids thing to do is sing that while going in a circle. We always learn some thing new everyday.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
I hope I NEVER stop learning something new everyday too! It's funny to think what type of mindset knowing things like this triggers too. I'll never be able to read a nursery rhyme again without wondering what might be behind the words! Jack and Jill for example, were they the victims of attempted murder?
@sharra1 (6342)
• Australia
5 Jun 09
Hi James. It is a very interesting topic for discussion. I do not have any in mind but I did not know the origin of the plague one until my partner told me. It was just something children sang. I would think that most people do not know the origins of many of the phrases they use. Maybe the rhyme was invented to teach children to be careful. The law about the size of the rod was to make sure that he could not cause serious damage. After all the patriarchal cultures made it a rule that women had to be beaten to keep them subservient. It is only in recent times that it has become illegal to beat your wife and in some cultures it is still quite legal. I do not understand why some men fear women thinking for themselves. It is the same with many family names. At least in England people used to take their family name from their occupation, like smith, weaver etc. I do not know about other countries.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
5 Jun 09
Heya Sharra. I first read about "ring a ring a rosie" and it's origins qyite some time ago, but it's not really a subject that comes up that often! lol. Using rhymes to teach kids makes a lot of sense I reckon. They do it these days for a whole range of subjects, so there's no reason why they wouldn't have done the same all the way back in the 17th century. The rule of thumb law is a horrendous one too; and yes, the law itself was abolished far more recently than a lot of people may realise. Better late than never I guess, but horrendous nonetheless. Some Scandinavian countries use a "son of" approach with naming conventions, but I'm not aware of a female equivalent. Here in Egypt it's a patriarchal system for naming as well. For example, any child born takes on no portion of the Mother's name at all. The women when married take on no aspect of the Husband's name either. The men themselves, add the names of those in their male lineage sequentially (usually 3 or 4 names I think) Their reasoning is that it shows specifically who an individual is and his immediate family line. The woman have several names too, but all are in recognition of the males in their family lines, not the women.
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@sharra1 (6342)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
I am not sure there is a female equivalent any more. There were matrilineal societies where the line was traced through the mother but the patriarchal cultures destroyed them where ever they existed. I grew up in a patriarchal family and culture. They have not changed that much here despite all the feminist attempts to get equal rights. I see people making a big song and dance about political correctness but when you have been on the down side you do not object so much. I wish I could see a world where people are just accepted for who they are but it will never happen in my lifetime.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
A close friend of mine got married about a year ago and took on his Wife's surname! This is the first time I've known someone that's done this and I have to admit that it was quite a surprise for me. I know many women that keep their maiden names after marriage and some that hyphenate surnames as well, but it's not common for a man to take on his Wife's name like this. We certainly live in a predominantly patriarchal society, but there are definitely regions where it's far more blatant than others.
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@sid556 (31005)
• United States
5 Jun 09
I knew of all of those but the "rule of thumb" one. didn't know that. Ok now how about this one.....Up a tree without a rowboat".....one of my mom's many sayings that my brothers and I just used to laugh at...didn't quite get. This all makes me think of the fairy tales that I used to read and later discovered inner meanings to.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
5 Jun 09
I've been up a tree without a rowboat on many occasions myself. Hang on a second..... I don't recall ever being up a tree WITH a rowboat actually! lol. My immediate assumption is that this term holds similar meaning to "up the creek without a paddle"? It can become quite an interesting journey when you look deeper into rhymes and childrens stories. Many are not what they seem at all!
@livewyre (2455)
5 Jun 09
How 'bout Georgie Porgie Puddin' and pie... That's a classic example, sounds like a story about a fat kid kissing girls in the playground instead of a monarch presumably doing something altogether more sinister...
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
5 Jun 09
I'll never look at pies or anyone named George the same way again! God help me if I ever see anyone named George eating a pie.....
@dawnald (84146)
• Shingle Springs, California
7 Jun 09
I knew about the nursery rhyme and about the rule of thumb thing. I personally think that a man should not be beaten by anything thicker than his wife's leg. But I digress. Here are a couple of nautical ones I looked up just for your discussion: As the Crow Flies - When lost or unsure of their position in coastal waters, ships would release a caged crow. The crow would fly straight towards the nearest land thus giving the vessel some sort of a navigational fix. The tallest lookout platform on a ship came to be know as the crow's nest. Leeway - The weather side of a ship is the side from which the wind is blowing. The Lee side is the side of the ship sheltered from the wind. A lee shore is a shore that is downwind of a ship. If a ship does not have enough "leeway" it is in danger of being driven onto the shore. Windfall - A sudden unexpected rush of wind from a mountainous shore which allowed a ship more leeway.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
7 Jun 09
Heaven help a woman with large legs then! I always wondered what uses could be found for a crow! All they seem to do is perch in trees and around roadkill making horrendous cawing noises. I always figured they'd have more potential! Knowing my luck, if I had of lived in those days, I would've owned a crow with a heart condition and it would drop into the sea immediately upon release! lol. I remember seeing a picture of your Mom on the family boat, so this would explain the nautical knowledge, yes? One other nautical related fact I remember is regarding Mark Twain. Samuel Clemens came upon the pen name "Mark Twain" because he used to hear the leadsmen on boats in the river yelling MARK TWAIN to indicate that the water was deep enough for safe passage.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
7 Jun 09
You discovered about windfall the morning after a beans frenzy did ya?
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@dawnald (84146)
• Shingle Springs, California
7 Jun 09
And that (the leg thing) might explain some men's obsession with thin women. lol
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@mtdewgurl74 (18118)
• United States
9 Jun 09
Wow..I just read something a little similar like that http://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Nursery_rhyme#Meanings_of_nursery_rhymes But it didn't give as much info as you did about it. If a man tried to beat me with a stick as big as his thumb..he be pulling out out elsewhere of his body later on...lol
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
9 Jun 09
Great link Becca! I could've used that earlier when starting that other discussion. between us all though, we've managed to uncover even more than wikipedia! How cool is that? lol. If a man tried to beat you with a stick then he'd DESERVE to be pulling things out of himself afterwards! lol.
@mtdewgurl74 (18118)
• United States
9 Jun 09
Totally agree..I don't feel a man is a man if he has to hit a woman to make him feel like a big man.. I got lucky there..mine has never hit me..I made that clear before the wedding vows..no hitting,cheating or drinking..So far so good he has stuck to all the rules. I told him there would be no second chances.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
9 Jun 09
Perfectly reasonable rules to set if you ask me! (Aside from the drinking part maybe! lol) I'm happy to hear that he's kept up his side of the bargain too.
@jdyrj777 (6556)
• United States
5 Jun 09
No, i never knew all that. It is very interesting. Im saving that information to share with others. Thank you. Have you ever heard of the original "Grimm Brother's"? I have heard of, but never seen or read it yet. I hear its pretty grimm.
@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
I've heard of the original Grimm Brothers Tales, but I haven't read any of them. To my understanding, their original writing's are very macabre and scary. I'll have to look this up I think!
@jdyrj777 (6556)
• United States
6 Jun 09
Yes me too. Awhile back i actually recorded something off the TV. I dont know if it was the original story or not. That was actually why i recorded it. Havent watched it yet to find out.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
I've seen the Grimm Brothers movie with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. Maybe this is what you recorded? It wasn't a bad movie as such, but it was more comedic than grim!
• United States
7 Jun 09
Hi, James! Did you ever notice that almost all the traditional fairy tales are terrifying? In their original versions, kids would be too scared by them to misbehave or wander off, or do any of the many things against which they warn. Modern fairy tales are far less sinister, and there are sanitized versions of most of the old standards because we're no longer really into scaring our kids.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
8 Jun 09
Heya Cobrateacher! They can sanitize new ones all they like, but we'll always know the dark and sinister truth behind the classics! I say a good kid scare can work wonders. Why look to reinvent the wheel? lol.
• United States
8 Jun 09
I think I remember why I like you!
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
9 Jun 09
Thank goodness for that! It's not something I like people to forget if I can help it!
• United States
5 Jun 09
As a country boy, I occasionally had city company, and we were sometimes out in the field when things got urgent. It was common advise, if I liked the person, to say, Don't "P" into the wind...
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
lol. I've heard this saying too and it's sound advice if you ask me! There's a saying in my home country of Australia - "Don't P in my pocket" which pretty much means that you don't want a person to BS you or try to butter you up!
• United States
5 Jun 09
While getting my B.S. in Microbiology in medical history, we were taught that the saying, Bless you, was because people believed sneezing was casting off evil spirits... Some polite people still say it, and one is expected to reply, Thank you.
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
6 Jun 09
I've always said "Bless you" when someone sneezes and I'm sure I always will. I do it because I was raised to do it and it's polite, yes. I don't have any superstitions about it, that's for sure!
@mrsl2008 (635)
4 Jun 09
Hi, The only one I can think of is the "Bless you" but it dates back to the days of the black plague. Sneezing was seen as a first sign, therefore people said "bless you" to help protect the soul, as you pointed out in your post. I went to a training college & my nickname was Bless you as I always said it whenever someone seized regardless of what we were doing!! Even during lectures!! If I think of any more, I'll be back!! Mrsl x x
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
Hi mrsl! I'm amazed I haven't been nicknamed the same thing because I ALWAYS say it too! My Wife sometimes has sneezing fits and I'll end up saying it 10 times in a row..... lol. Thank goodness the soul protection angle is just a superstition otherwise my Wife may be in a spot of bother! I look forward to hearing any more if you remember some!
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• United States
4 Jun 09
Well, now that I have popped in to respond to this, I can't think of a single one. Especially nothing sinister. I know that a lot of children's songs and nursery rhymes have some pretty creep origins. And, again, I can't think of a single one, now that I started typing.*L*
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@James72 (26829)
• Australia
4 Jun 09
"Twinkle, twinkle little star" apparently is about a firey, red hot meteor that's going to devastate the planet in the year 2056, but I haven't been able to source any proof just yet. Let's just call it a hunch for now!
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