In my last post I introduced a number of present-day sayings and described their origins. I took items from a book called ‘Red Herrings and White Elephants - The Origins of the phrases we use every day.’
Judging by the number of hits on my blog these seemed to generate interest so here are a few more from that same book. I must acknowledge the author Albert Jack and his book published in 2004 (ISBN 1-84358-129-9) and hope he will forgive my use of extracts.
The White Elephant in the title originates from Siam (now Thailand) where the King was said to own all white elephants since they were rare and highly prized. It was strictly forbidden to ride them, put them to work or misuse them and they had to be kept well-housed, fed and watered. It was thus an expensive possession since you couldn't do anything with it. It is said that if anyone displeased the King he would give them a White Elephant, thus condemning them to a life of expense and trouble. Today a building (for example) is said to be a White Elephant if, despite the cost to build and maintain, it is of no use at all.
Pushed from Pillar to Post. Means to be hassled by others and generally to have one’s life made a misery. It comes from a time when criminals and wrong-doers would be taken to the Pillory (the Stocks) and then to the Whipping Post. This has become Pillar to Post.
To be Under the Weather. An old nautical term; when sailors were unwell and unable to function properly they were sent below decks (sheltered from (under) the weather) to recover.
Bob’s Your Uncle. In the 1886 Arthur Balfour was promoted to Secretary of State for Ireland even though he was considered to be singularly unsuitable for the job. When it became known that he was the nephew of the Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil it was said that if Robert was your uncle a deed was as good as done.