Example: Jill decided to take the bull by the horns and have her moustache waxed.
Taking the bull by the horns is unsurprisingly, traced most commonly to the Wild West and rodeo sports. In the discipline of steer wrestling, a cowboy tries to bring down a young steer single-handedly by facing it head on, grasping it by its horns, and forcing it to the ground. They seem to have been a bit short on entertainment back then, so it was something to do while they waited for the Playstation to be invented.
There is some evidence that the phrase was used as early as the 17th century. This would be prior to the era of six-shooters and cattle rustling. If so, then its roots may be anchored in an older cow related sport / torture, that of bull fighting.
Example: Just before James was to collect the five dollars that Noddy owed him, Noddy kicked the bucket, ensuring that James was never going to see that money again. Some people have no respect.
The first written usage of this charming but deadly idiom was in 1785, but its origins are a bit muddied to say the least. There are at least three common explanations.
The first and most popular story claims that it has to do with death by hanging, either by suicide or execution. The hapless victim, having climbed onto a bucket to put their head in the noose, would literally ‘kick the bucket’ in their death throes. It does seem a bit far-fetched that a bucket was such a common device in hangings.
The second theory uses a bit of linguistic history. Trebuchet is a French word meaning a balance (also a medieval weapon that utilises the properties of tension and balance). The English language commandeered the word and shortened it to ‘bucket’, meaning a beam or yoke, though this usage of the word is rarely used today. It is theorised that the ‘bucket’ in our idiom is the beam that pigs and other farm animals were hung from as they were slaughtered. They too ‘kicked the bucket’ during their struggles. Another lovely image for you there.
Thirdly, some say it refers to an old Catholic custom of leaving a bucket of holy water at the feet of the recently deceased. Friends and relatives could sprinkle it on the dearly departed when they paid their respects. Iddy’s not sure there’s much kicking happening in this explanation.
Definition: To be so irritated by something (or somebody), you are willing to climb walls to escape.
Example: Matt was being driven up the wall by his neighbour’s compulsion to play the kazoo all night long.
There seems to be no absolute origin for being driven up the wall, probably because it is so self explanatory. We’ve all had those moments. You’ve been cornered by somebody at a party. They’re telling you about some tax loophole which could save you ninety-seven cents each and every year. The pure mental image of climbing or driving up a wall to escape is like the image of a tall cold drink when you’re lost in the desert.
Its meaning seems to have changed subtly in the past few decades. We have come to use the term ‘driven’ less and less as a way of expressing a push or a force, and more and more as the act of controlling a car. Just like poor Iddy here. Not quite sure where he thinks he’s going. Maybe he’s misinterpreted the term ‘uptown’.
Example: Timmy and Tammy, the twins from Hell, were actually as good as gold when they visited their Grandparents, and didn’t end up killing them as was widely predicted.
The meaning of good as gold has altered somewhat since its inception. We now use it exclusively for describing behaviour, but originally it meant that something was genuine. Bank and credit notes were often eyed with suspicion, as they were open to counterfeiting, and were only a promise of payment, rather than payment itself. Silver and gold coins were more readily accepted, being of tangible value, and a comforting weight in the hand.
Why the focus moved from the lustre of precious metals to the behaviour of children appears unclear.
Definition: A command to be quiet, or less politely, to shut up!
Example: Mitchell was told to put a sock in it when he began the story of how his wife lost her skirt in the closing bus door.
Despite its relatively recent appearance, there seems to be no single accepted explanation for it.
Early gramophones had no volume controls, so people used to stuff the horn with a sock to reduce the volume. Boy, the world was a harsh place before the digital age. Next, you’ll be telling us that they had to hand crank a handle to get the record spinning. Oh. They did, didn’t they.
Like the expression ‘bite the bullet’, it originates from battlefield medical procedures. The unfortunate soul being operated on in the trenches had a sock or other item of clothing stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams. This was for the benefit of the surgeon, the soldier’s comrades, and to stop the enemy from pinpointing their position from the noise.
Simplest of all, it is your overwhelming urge when cornered by a dreadful bore; to jam a sock into the offending orifice. And the smellier the sock, the better.
Example: Sandra was feeling blue as George Clooney hadn’t answered a single one of her 337 love letters to him.
Feeling blue goes way, way back, first recorded in 1385, and during the intervening centuries, its origin has faded.
There are no shortages of theories though. Here’s a few.
The blue is referring to that of lifelessness, as in blue lips and skin.
The blue is referring to rain and storms, reaching even further back, into Greek mythology, where Zeus would make it rain when he was sad.
The blue is referring to an old naval custom, that of flying blue flags, or painting a blue band along the hull of a ship upon return to its home port if its captain had perished during the last voyage.
Example: When John’s attempt to cook the Christmas dinner exploded in the oven, he had to admit it had all gone pear shaped.
Used almost exclusively in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, ‘gone pear shaped’ baffles the rest of the English speaking world.
It is a recent addition, first appearing in print in 1983. Despite its young age, it is still unclear how it came to be. Pear shaped has been, and continues to be used as a body description. You can picture it easily. Narrow at the shoulders and wide at the hips. I suppose if you looked at yourself in the mirror and saw that body shape, you might think it has gone badly wrong.
There have been claims that it is 1940’s/50’s Royal Air Force terminology for a poorly executed loop, or a ship building phrase to describe a badly formed and unusable rivet.
It was probably most famously used by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a press conference with President Ronald Reagan. It left much of the press corps and the rest of the world at a loss as to her meaning.
Definition: To be incredibly happy/ to be in state of euphoria
Example: After winning the lottery, being asked out by a supermodel, and seeing his boss fall down a mineshaft, all in the same day, Simon was on Cloud Nine.
On Cloud Nine has a number of explanations, with plenty of contradictory threads.
1) It has been claimed that this is a by-product of weather classification, attributed to both the US Weather Bureau of the 1950’s and the International Cloud Atlas of 1896. In their categorisation of clouds, set number nine was the billowing cumulonimbus. You know…. the thunderstormy ones. One extra fact seems to negate this explanation. Both scales went to ten. Choosing a second best category to define the ultimate state of happiness seems illogical.
2) A second claim is that this refers to the ninth state of enlightenment in Buddism. But Iddy’s counted those. There are ten of them as well.
3) In Chinese Han mythology, there are nine levels to heaven, nine being the highest, so this seems more fitting.
To make matters more confusing, the number nine seems to be a relatively recent arrival to the whole cloud saga. Cloud seven was the most popular version of the phrase for decades, probably related to seventh heaven. Other versions found in print have been clouds 8 and 39. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the number nine became predominant. In the 1950’s, there was a TV variety show called “Cloud Nine”, but it isn’t clear whether the show or the currently numbered idiom came first. A bit like the chicken and the egg.
Two shabby men who seem to be old friends meet on the side of a country road near a leafless tree. The first, Estragon, has been beaten up, and the second, Vladimir, suffers from groin pain and frequent urination. They consider repenting, though they don't know what for, and they discuss the different views in the Bible of the two thieves crucified with Christ. Getting bored, they consider leaving, but Vladimir says they are waiting for Godot. They have asked him for something, though they aren't sure what, and they are waiting for a response. They consider hanging themselves as a diversion to pass the time or to speed up time, but they worry about one of them surviving alone. In the meantime, there is "Nothing to be done."
Vladimir and Estragon hear a "terrible cry" just before two travelers arrive. Pozzo, a wealthy landowner, stops to eat and talk to the two men but mostly takes pleasure in hearing himself talk. He roughly orders around and abuses Lucky, a slave whom he keeps on a rope. Lucky is unresponsive except when following Pozzo's orders, and kicks Estragon when he tries to comfort him. When he is ordered to think, however, Lucky produces a jumbled speech that verges on profound meaning. He becomes increasingly passionate until the others angrily attack him to make him stop. Lucky collapses, and to be revived, he must be reacquainted with the burdens he carries. After the sun sets, he and Pozzo continue on their journey.
Vladimir reveals that he and Estragon have met Pozzo and Lucky before—at least he thinks so. A boy arrives with a message from Godot—he will not come this evening, but "surely tomorrow." It seems the two friends have also heard this message before, although the boy claims not to have come yesterday. Their questions about Godot reveal how little they know about the person they've been waiting for. They ask the boy to tell Godot he has seen them. The moon rises, and they decide to find a place to sleep, but neither moves.
When Vladimir and Estragon return, the tree has a few leaves on it, which is astounding for Vladimir and confusing for Estragon. Estragon has been beaten again, and he is angry that Vladimir, who is feeling better, seems happy without him. He suggests they part ways, but Vladimir discourages him. Vladimir reminds Estragon of their encounter with Pozzo and Lucky "yesterday," of which Estragon has only vague recollections. Estragon sees the world as a "muckheap," and their conversations—to pass the time—linger on describing the dead, who "make a noise like feathers." They also debate the value of thought, ultimately deciding it has little worth.
When Vladimir points out the change in the tree, Estragon denies that they were in this place yesterday. Certainly all is not exactly as they left it, including Estragon's boots, which he claims are now a different color and size. Estragon becomes increasingly bored and wants to go, but when he does leave, he returns immediately, fleeing from someone who seems to be coming from all directions. When Vladimir looks, however, he sees no one. After Estragon calms down, they continue their random conversations and activities to pass the time as they wait for Godot.
Lucky and Pozzo arrive again, but they are much different. Pozzo has gone blind, which turns him into a pitiful figure who must rely on Lucky's guidance and support. He falls whenever Lucky does. Indeed, both fall as they arrive and seem unable to get back up. When Vladimir and Estragon try to help them, they also fall and cannot get up, until a passing cloud distracts them. They help Pozzo up and suggest that Lucky might perform for them again. But Lucky has been struck dumb (left unable to speak). Pozzo also has no memory of any previous meetings with Vladimir and Estragon. After letting Estragon avenge himself on Lucky, Pozzo and Lucky continue on, falling down again as they go.
While Estragon naps, a boy arrives with the same message from Godot: he cannot come tonight but will tomorrow "without fail." The boy says he did not come yesterday and doesn't know if his brother, who is sick, did. Vladimir again asks the boy, more desperately this time, to tell Godot that he has seen him, but the boy runs away without confirming that he has seen him. Night falls and Estragon wakes up. He and Vladimir again consider hanging themselves, but once again they have no rope. They resolve to bring some tomorrow when they return to wait for Godot, and agree to go for the night. Neither moves.
TheIliad opens with an expression of rage and frustration. The Trojan War has been raging for nine long years, with the Achaeans (Greeks) unable to break through the walls of Troy. King Agamemnon, who leads the Achaeans, has been forced to give up a valued prize, a woman he captured. This is no ordinary woman, but the daughter of a priest of Apollo; refusal to return her to her father brought on the wrath of Apollo in the form of a plague on the Greeks. Arrogant and high-handed, Agamemnon repairs his loss of honor by taking a prize from Achilles, a woman named Briseis whom Achilles values greatly. Achilles (who is at the beginning of the story as arrogant and high-handed as Agamemnon) resents the offense to his honor but is prevented by the goddess Athena from coming to blows with Agamemnon. Instead, he turns away and refuses to fight in the siege of Troy. To show Agamemnon who's more important, he asks the gods to allow the Trojans to defeat his own army—the Achaeans—until he returns to the fight. To bring this about, Achilles's mother, who is a goddess, secures the help of Zeus, the king of the gods.
The Achaean and Trojan armies march out onto the field to fight. But Paris, the Trojan prince who started the war by stealing the wife of Menelaus (brother of Agamemnon), proposes that it be settled by single combat between him and Menelaus. Menelaus agrees and a duel ensues. Just as Menelaus is about to defeat Paris, the goddess Aphrodite carries him back to Troy, and the battle recommences.
Athena helps the Achaean hero Diomedes in battle, enabling him to wound Aphrodite and Ares (Book 5), two of the gods helping Troy. Hector, a prince of Troy and the greatest Trojan warrior, briefly returns to the city to organize an appeal to the gods and fetch Paris back to the battlefield. The gods end the fighting for the day with a duel between Hector and Great Ajax, the second-strongest Achaean hero after Achilles. Ajax has the advantage but cannot kill Hector.
Both sides take a day off from fighting to bury their dead. The Achaeans take the opportunity to build a wall around their ships. When the fighting resumes the next day, Zeus forbids the other gods to interfere. He will control the war from now on. With Zeus's help, the Trojans push toward the Achaean ships. Agamemnon leads a brief rally for the Achaeans, but Hector pushes them all the way back to their new wall. Alarmed by the Trojan advance, Agamemnon offers Achilles many prizes, including the return of Briseis, to return to the battle. However, he offers no apology, and Achilles is not appeased.
Unable to sleep, the Achaean captains Odysseus and Diomedes make a daring night raid on the Trojan army, killing a number of Trojan allies. In the morning Agamemnon initially pushes the Trojans all the way back to the city. Zeus then turns the tide, causing most of the Achaean captains to be wounded. Many Achaeans fight valiantly, but Zeus empowers the Trojan fighters to break through the wall and threaten the Achaean ships. When Zeus takes his eye off the war for a bit, the sea-god Poseidon inspires the Achaeans to kill and wound many Trojans, holding them off the ships.
Hera devises a plan to distract Zeus. She seduces him after bribing the god Sleep to put him to sleep afterward. With Poseidon's help the Achaeans drive the Trojans back outside their wall. However, Zeus soon awakens and takes control again. He directs his son Apollo to strike fear into the Achaeans with Zeus's terrifying shield. As the Trojans reach the ships, Achilles's closest friend, Patroclus, begs him to return and save the Achaeans. Achilles is still too angry, but he lets Patroclus use his armor and chariot to make the Trojans think he has returned.
In Achilles's armor and chariot, Patroclus turns the tide of the battle, pushing the Trojans all the way back to their own city walls. However, he gets carried away and goes up against Hector, who kills him. Hector strips Achilles's armor from Patroclus but is driven back before he can claim the body. In a fit of pride, Hector fatefully puts on Achilles's armor. Great Ajax, Menelaus, and others hold off Hector and his troops. However, they cannot get Patroclus's body back to their camp until Achilles, having heard of his comrade's death, appears on the Achaean wall. The goddess Athena makes him glorious and terrifying. He frightens the Trojans enough for the Achaeans to retrieve Patroclus's body.
Now Achilles no longer cares about his quarrel with Agamemnon. All of his anger is focused on killing Hector. The next morning, his goddess mother brings him new armor (including the marvelous shield, the description of which is detailed in Book 18) made by the god of fire, and Zeus tells the gods they may intervene in the war. Achilles rages against the Trojans, slaughtering huge numbers. No mortal can stand against him. He sends the entire Trojan army retreating back to the city. Ashamed that he has led the Trojan army to defeat, Hector waits for Achilles outside the gates of Troy.
Despite his previous boasts, Hector loses his nerve and runs as Achilles approaches. After Achilles has chased him around the city three times, Athena tricks Hector into stopping. Achilles's divine armor protects him, but Hector is betrayed by the armor he is wearing, Achilles's old armor. Achilles kills Hector through a weak spot in the armor he knows so well. In his anger Achilles abuses Hector's body and drags it behind his chariot.
Over the next couple of days, Achilles and the Achaeans hold a funeral for Patroclus and compete in games in his honor. But Hector's family and the Trojans have no such comfort. Finally, Zeus decrees that Achilles must give Hector's body back. The god Hermes guides Priam, Hector's father, into the Achaean camp to appeal to Achilles. Achilles is moved by Priam's words and allows the Trojans time to bury Hector.
TheAeneid begins after the fall of Troy. The Trojan fleet carrying the surviving warriors is being battered by a storm in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily. The storm has been sent by Juno, queen of the gods. She holds a grudge against the Trojans and their leader, Aeneas, over past injustices done to her by Trojans and because in the future, the descendants of Aeneas will destroy her favorite city, Carthage. Just as it seems the Trojans will be destroyed, the sea god Neptune guides their ships to shore. They discover they are near the city of Carthage, ruled by Queen Dido, who welcomes them warmly. The Trojans have been traveling since Troy was destroyed, trying to find a new home. Worried that Aeneas, her son, will have no place to rest, the goddess Venus makes Dido fall passionately in love with him.
Aeneas Tells of His Feats
Aeneas tells Dido the story of their travels so far, beginning with the destruction of Troy. He describes how the Trojans were manipulated into bringing a giant horse left by the Greeks into their city. It was filled with Greek soldiers, who sneaked out in the night and let in the Greek army. Aeneas fought through the streets but could not save the city. Venus sent him back home to save his family before the fall of the city. He got his father and son safely out of Troy, but his wife disappeared as they fled the city. When he returned to look for her, he found only her ghost, who told him to seek a new queen in Italy.
Aeneas and the other survivors from Troy built their fleet and then sailed to neighboring Thrace and tried to settle there. However, a terrible omen of future treachery sent them back to sea. They stopped at Delos, an island sacred to the god Apollo, where Aeneas was given a prophecy to settle in his ancestor's land. Thinking of the wrong ancestor, they tried to settle on Crete, but a plague drove them back to sea. As they sailed on, encountering monsters and old friends, the prophecy was clarified—their new home would be in Italy. Unfortunately, Aeneas's father, Anchises, died before they reached it. Aeneas buried him in Sicily, and the Trojans set sail again, this time getting waylaid by Juno's storm.
A Tragic Love Affair Ends as New Adventures Begin
Dido is impressed by Aeneas and his feats, and succumbs to her feelings for him. Hoping it will keep Aeneas out of Italy and prevent his fate, Juno maneuvers Dido into having sex with Aeneas. However, it is not an official marriage, and the winged monster Rumor flies to tell people in other towns about their union. Noticing Aeneas is getting too comfortable, Jupiter sends his messenger Mercury to remind Aeneas of his fate and duty. Dido is terribly distraught to learn he is leaving and foresees her death. Aeneas is regretful, but nothing can delay him or change his mind. Dido climbs on her funeral pyre, where her dead body will burn, and fatally stabs herself with his sword as he sails away.
Fighting unfavorable winds, the Trojan fleet stops again in Sicily, just in time to celebrate the first anniversary of Anchises's death. Aeneas and his people make sacrifices and feast before the games of speed and skill. Trojans and Sicilians distinguish themselves, while others are embarrassed. Aeneas richly rewards both winners and other notable competitors. Meanwhile, Juno incites the women in the fleet, who are tired of traveling, to burn the ships. Jupiter puts the fires out before the ships are destroyed, but it shakes Aeneas's confidence. The ghost of his father appears, telling him to sail to Italy and visit him in the underworld.
Aeneas's first stop in Italy is Cumae, where the Sybil delivers prophesies to Aeneas and where the door to the underworld lies. The Sybil foretells a terrible war before Aeneas can make his home in Italy. She directs Aeneas to the golden bough he must find to enter the underworld and then guides him into its depths. They cross the river Acheron and the marshes of the Styx, where the ferryman Charon waits for the dead, meeting many spirits. Aeneas sees Dido and tries to apologize, but she refuses to speak to him. He finds his father in the Elysian Fields, and Anchises shows him many of his Roman descendants who will build the Roman Empire. They include Romulus, Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar.
The Trojans finally find the Tiber River, where they are meant to settle. Aeneas sends an envoy to make peace with the king of Latium. Following a prophecy, King Latinus offers his daughter, Lavinia, in marriage. But before the deal can be made, Juno sends the Fury of Rage to turn both Latinus's queen and Turnus, king of a neighboring city and one of Lavinia's suitors, against Aeneas. Between the three of them, they rouse Italy to war with the Trojans.
Turnus gathers allies, and Aeneas needs to find allies of his own to fight with him. The god of the Tiber River tells Aeneas to go up the river to Pallanteum, which often fights against Latium. There, King Evander tells Aeneas of another potential ally, the Etruscans. They have overthrown their cruel king and are gathered to attack Turnus, with whom the former king has taken refuge. However, a prophecy says their leader cannot be from Italy. Evander sends horsemen and his son, Pallas, with Aeneas to meet the Etruscans. Wanting to ensure the safety of her son in battle, Venus asks her husband, Vulcan, the god of fire, to make Aeneas weapons and armor. He creates a great shield that shows the future glory of Rome.
Turnus's army attacks the Trojans left behind when Aeneas went to Pallanteum, a group that includes Aeneas's son, Ascanius. They retreat safely within their fort, so Turnus instead tries to burn their ships. However, Jupiter turns them into sea nymphs, and they swim away. The Trojan comrades Nisus and Euryalus make a daring attempt to get through the enemy camp surrounding them and summon Aeneas back, but a lust for plunder betrays them to their tragic death. When Turnus attacks the fort itself, a few of the Trojans open the gates to better fight the enemy. The gates are closed again, but Turnus is already inside. He kills many Trojans before he is driven out.
Aeneas sails back with the Etruscan fleet, and a great battle begins. Aeneas and Turnus are effectively invincible against anyone except each other. Pallas, commanding the cavalry from Pallanteum, fights bravely and catches Turnus's attention. Pallas attacks first, but Turnus's attack is deadlier, and Pallas dies with a spear in his chest. Fatefully, Turnus takes Pallas's sword belt to wear as a trophy. Aeneas, enraged by news of Pallas's death, finally frees the Trojan fort. Fearing Aeneas's strength, Juno whisks Turnus away from the battlefield. The cruel Etruscan king Mezentius is still fighting, though. Aeneas wounds him with a spear throw, but his son, Lausus, protects him so he can get away. Unfortunately, that costs the noble Lausus his life. Mezentius returns to avenge him and is also killed by Aeneas.
Aeneas sends Pallas's body home with a great procession. When an envoy from Latium arrives, he suggests he and Turnus fight in single combat to decide the war. In Latium, King Latinus and Turnus learn they won't be joined by a powerful ally, and Turnus reluctantly agrees to single combat. However, before it can be arranged, part of Aeneas's army approaches the city. While Turnus unsuccessfully tries to trap Aeneas and the other half of his army, the warrior princess Camilla defends the city. Camilla is as deadly as Turnus or Aeneas, but she gets distracted, allowing an Etruscan soldier to get a spear through her defenses. Camilla's patron goddess Diana ensures that vengeance is taken on her killer, but the defense of Latium is broken.
Settling Things One-on-One, with the Gods' Help
Turnus agrees to single combat with Aeneas. Latinus asks him to consider another bride, but Turnus is fatalistically determined to win Lavinia or die. On the morning of the duel, Juno convinces Turnus's sister, Juturna, to save her brother by provoking the armies to fight again. When Aeneas tries to stop the escalating hostilities, he is struck by an arrow, but Venus helps heal him. Juturna disguises herself as Turnus's charioteer and keeps her brother away from Aeneas. When Aeneas attacks the city, Turnus finally returns for the duel. Turnus is no match for Aeneas assisted by the gods. Wounded and humbled, he asks for mercy. Aeneas is about to grant it when he sees Turnus is wearing Pallas's sword belt. In a blaze of fury, Aeneas stabs Turnus through the heart.