By Emily Wei, Lifestyle Columnist
For many of us, August gives us a bittersweet taste of the end of summer. Beaches become warmer, summer concerts seem to be around every corner, gardens are often in full bloom, and it’s a great month to take a vacation and explore new places. Although lately it seems like it’s been raining cats and dogs, waking up on the wrong side of the bed in summertime still seems more bearable than any other season. However, all of this seems to slip away in the blink of an eye. When I first started brainstorming what to write about in this month’s column, I considered making a “Back-to-School Essentials” list, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and, instead, decided to turn a blind eye to the upcoming finale of summer 2023. So instead, I’ve decided to go a different direction and talk about common catchphrases and how they came to be! If you hadn’t noticed already, I’ve used about four catchphrases so far (try to find them all). Although I may have been integrating a couple extra to make my point, you can’t deny that catchphrases are a part of daily life and the English vocabulary would be very different without them.
To start off, we’ll be looking at some common weather-related catchphrases. A popular saying is to “steal one’s thunder”. If you haven’t heard of this one, it ultimately means to take praise away from someone else by overshadowing what they intended to say or do. This catchphrase originated from John Dennis in the 18th century when he constructed a machine with the purpose of mimicking the noise of thunder for a play. However, his play didn’t take off quite as he thought, but when he went to another theatre, he discovered that someone else had copied his invention without giving him credit! Another saying is that it’s “raining cats and dogs”. This saying is said to originate from Norse mythology as cats and dogs were associated with storms and two important deities in Norse culture. These deities were; Freyja (goddess of love, beauty, and fertility) and Odin (god of war, wisdom, and magic). Freyja was commonly shown in a chariot in the sky drawn by two cats and Odin was said to have a strong connection with wolves. Therefore, the saying “raining cats and dogs” is said to have evolved from the symbolism of cats and dogs being linked to strong elements of nature.
Secondly, let’s take a look at some catchphrases about luck. Starting with, “break a leg”, this one always seems a bit strange at first because it’s obvious that no one wants to literally break their leg. On that account, this phrase originates from the” leg line” of a stage which is a line marked on the floor backstage to signal to performers where they become visible to the audience. If someone crossed the leg line, they would get paid for the performance, however, venues would often end up having more acts than stage time available. Due to this, many performers would not have the opportunity to pass the leg line. Hence, the phrase “break a leg” was created. Additionally, the phrase “knock on wood” has many theories as to how it originated, but a common explanation is that ancient cultures believed that spirits resided in trees. Knocking on these trees have been theorized to summon the spirits for protection or show gratitude when good luck is received.
Of course, the backgrounds behind most catchphrases are just theories and only a few have actually been proven true, so take this all with a grain of salt. Despite this, it’s still fun to think about our everyday language evolving from a deeper meaning. I hope you all have a good month and talk soon!