‘Setting my teeth on edge’ – so it’s not just something to say when you hear fingernails scraping on a blackboard, or a child’s first tentative attempt to play a musical instrument.
It’s for real … and my, it is painful!
A recent visit to the dentist revealed that I’ve been expressing my stress by grinding my teeth while I sleep. The resulting sensitivity in my teeth and the muscle soreness have not been pleasant.
So now I need to de-stress!
However, it got me thinking about how many phrases we use that are related to our anatomy. So I searched out a delightful little book I’d been given a couple of years ago. Red herrings and white elephants by Albert Jack with illustrations by Ama Page gives the origins of some of the phrases we use every day. A quick scan of the index revealed about 25 – and that didn’t include some that even I know would cause a few blushes or raise the eyebrows.
Just a couple that I found interesting –
- pull your finger out – Loaded cannons used to have gunpowder poured into a small ignition hole and held in place with a wooden plug. During those times when speed was important (like a battle, no less), the powder would be pushed in and then held in place by a gun crewman using his finger. Impatient artillerymen would shout, ‘Pull your finger out’ so the gun could be fired. As Albert Jack says, “It has not been recorded how many digits were lost on the battlefields.”
- brass neck – The phrase suggests that while someone has the nerve to try anything to suit their own purposes, their action is usually accompanied by reluctant admiration by others. In the notorious time of highwaymen, it’s said that the miscreant, prior to his public hanging from the nearest oak tree, would swallow a piece of brass tube with a wire attached to it and held inside his mouth. This, he believed (or hoped), would allow him to breathe long enough for the crowd to disperse before his accomplice would cut him down so he could make a quick exit. Nobody seems to know if it worked, but it has left us with the phrase.
- flea in your ear – Watch the distressed shaking of the head that accompanies an animal when it has something annoying in its ear. Telling someone off in no uncertain terms has the same effect.
Our language is so rich and we take it for granted, using expressions that are centuries old without giving them a thought.
Enjoy trying out words and phrases that are perhaps out of your usual repertoire, and add a new dimension to your writing.
Remember to visit my website for other tips to sharpen your writing.
And I’m always around to help you solve your writing dilemmas – I love what I do!
What’s your favourite saying, and how do you use such expressions in your writing?