Famous Sayings Explained, Part Deux

by Lincoln Sedlacek

“You’ve got a chip on your shoulder.”
A saying expressing that someone has a lot of food – so much, they do not even bother to put the potato chip that fell on their shoulder into a plastic baggie to save for later.

“I’m burning the midnight oil.”
A statement used to convey how hard one is working. Its historical origins date back to a time when rich oil tycoons hired people to burn excess oil they didn’t know what to do with. Particularly ambitious laborers would brag to their co-workers about how they stayed up burning oil until midnight.

“What a cock and bull story.”
This figure of speech is used to describe a TV show that is an instant hit. The phrase originated in 1977, after the incredible success of The Adventures of Cock and Bull – a buddy cop show about a rough-’n’-tumble, loose-cannon rooster and a by-the-book bull who brought down the most dangerous drug ring in New York City.

“I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.”
An idiom signifying that a person heard something from a reputable source. This expression dates back to the early 1800s, when horses were widely considered the most reliable fount of scientific knowledge. Horses lost their scientific credibility in the early 1930s when people realized that, no, horses really couldn’t talk, but the phrase has regained popularity recently, as people have begun to recognize that they still tend to report the news more honestly than the current media.

“They went the whole nine yards.”
Used to say that someone went as far as possible or did as much as they possibly could: a measure that, for normal humans, is apparently comparable to traveling 36 feet. People sometimes add a clarifying exclamation before the phrase, like, “I can’t believe it!” or, “Amazing!” in order to reemphasize how completely fantastic it is that someone managed to transport their body a whole 432 inches from their original starting point – a feat of effort and willpower that most people can’t manage under normal circumstances.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
A phrase used to express the idea that, while one may think it’s bad for two birds to have formed a makeshift nest in their pubic hair, it’s really just as bad to have to hold a bird in your hand all the time due to pure inconvenience.

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