In their original use, many idiomatic expressions were meant literally. But sometimes, the attribution of the literal meaning changed and the phrase itself grew away from its original roots—typically leading to folk etymology.
Honestly, even native English speakers don’t always know where some peculiar idioms of their mother tongue came from. So below is a list of some of the strangest idioms that there is in English with their meaning and their probable origin.
1. Wear your heart on your sleeve
Wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t too convenient in both cases – either you’re literally doing it or you’re just openly displaying emotions. To be more precise, make your feelings and emotions obvious rather than hiding them.
She simply doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve so it’s sometimes difficult to know what she’s feeling.
This phrase may derive from the custom at Middle Ages’ jousting matches. Knights are said to have worn the colours of the lady they were supporting, in cloths or ribbons tied to their arms.
2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
The meaning of this idiom is to avoid eliminating something good when trying to get rid of something bad. In other words, rejecting the favourable (here, the baby) along with the unfavourable (the bathwater).
Unfortunately, any discussion of the origin of this proverb has to refer to the nonsensical but immortal email that circulates the Internet, ‘Life in the 1500s’. One of the claims in one version of that mail is that “in medieval times” people shared scarce bathwater and by the time that the baby was bathed, the water was so murky that the baby was in danger of being thrown out unseen.
3. Fly off the handle
This is an American phrase and it alludes to the uncontrolled way a loose axe-head flies off from its handle. It is to react in a very angry way to something that someone says or does.
For example, Jamil is a fine decent fellow, but he’s always had a tendency to fly off the handle and then wish he hadn’t.