A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Have you ever wondered at the origins of many everyday phrases? Have you ever wanted to use a saying in your story but were unsure if the phrase was around in those days or even exactly what it means?

The Phrase Finder will share with you the meanings and origins of 1,500 English phrases and sayings. You can either search alphabetically or in one of the four categories provided: William Shakespeare, the Bible, Nautical Phrases, or English Proverbs. I was surprised at how many common phrases we use every day came from these sources.

In the Bible section, it gives some interesting background on the King James Version. Along with the works of Shakespeare and the Oxford English Dictionary, this book was instrumental in shaping the English language with much of the phrases still in common use today.

Here’s a few that I thought were less obvious:
A drop in the bucket
A fly in the ointment
As old as the hills
At his wits end
Bite the dust
By the skin of your teeth
Can a leopard change its spots?
Eat drink and be merry
Fight the good fight
Flesh and blood
Give up the ghost
Physician heal thyself
Sour grapes
The apple of his eye
The blind leading the blind
The fly in the ointment
The powers that be
The writing is on the walL

In the alphabetical section I clicked on C and then on “Carpe diem”.
Meaning: Usually translated from the Latin as ‘seize the day’, or sometimes as ‘enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe’.

Origin: The origin source for the Latin phrase is Horace – in Odes Book I:
Dum loquimur, fugerit invida
Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero
which translates as:
While we’re talking, envious time is fleeing: seize the day, put no trust in the future.

Lord Byron was the first to integrate it into English in his 1817 ‘Letters’, which was published in 1830 by T. Moore:
“I never anticipate, – carpe diem – the past at least is one’s own, which is one reason for making sure of the present.”
Byron’s use of a quotation from Horace isn’t surprising as the poet published ‘Hints from Horace’ just a few years earlier, in 1811.

I could spend hours just clicking on different phrases – fascinating stuff!

Do you like this kind research? How much do you think you know about the origin of common phrases? Here’s a quiz if you want to find out.

Happy procrastinating er… I mean writing! :)

21 Comment(s)

  1. I haven’t played with the phrase finder yet, but I did take several of the quizzes. They’re fun. I had forgotten about some of these phrases.

    Great blog. I always think they are so much fun!!

    Renee | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. Thanks, Renee. I like quizzes, and with these I actually learned something.:) When you have some time, check out the phrase finder. There are some really good ones in there with their origins. Great for an historical writer!

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  3. I grew up with people using those phrases. I use alot of them myself and other’s look at me like I’m crazy.

    Tonya Kappes | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  4. In one of my writing classes our prof always warned about using cliches. Big no no. But writers can get away with it with a simple twist of the cliche. Giving the phrase a new spin on the same meaning. For example: In the Ralph Loren department it was a case of The Blind leading the fashionably impaired. (same meaning twist on the cliche).

    Terri | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  5. What a great find, Laurie! You know I’ll love it. I’ll be back later to take a longer look at it (and to do the quiz–love those too)!

    Y’all have a great day! :)

    Brynna | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  6. Tonya, the one I remember the most growing up is ‘colder than a well digger’s butt’. My dad used to say that all the time.

    Renee | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  7. Terri, I love the challenge of taking a cliche and twisting it to make it my own.

    Renee | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  8. Brynna, I’m sure your score will be much higher than mine. :)

    Renee | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  9. Tonya, I thought everyone used them. Some I use more than others like “bite the dust”. I thought that one was modern slang and was surprised to see it had come from the bible.

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  10. Terri, really good point about cliches. I love how you put a spin on that one. I’ll have to see what I can come up with.

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  11. Brynna, I knew you’d have fun with it. I’ll be interested in finding out how well you do on the origin of phrase quiz. I have to warn you, that one is pretty hard.

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  12. Fascinating.

    I always thought “bit the dust” was a cowboy phrase, since I generally heard it from cowboys, and it was often meant as much literally as figuratively.

    Alice Audrey | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  13. LOL, Alice, and I always thought it Queen coined the phrase. Anyone else have that song stuck in their head?

    Renee | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  14. I do now. *rolls eyes*

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  15. I wonder if it meant the same thing in biblical times as it does today.

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  16. Wow, love this site. Tks, Laurie, I think… :) This could be another procrastination device… ;)

    Anastasia St. James | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  17. The quizzes are fun. I got most of the literary ones, but some I had no idea. :)

    Brynna | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  18. I’m glad you liked it, Ana, but no procrastination for you. You have just a few more writing days before dh gets home so don’t waste them.

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  19. Brynna, they are fun, aren’t they? I thought it was interesting to see if I could guess which answer made the most sense. Some of them I got right just from reading Regencies years ago, like the ‘The first water’ question. See, you really do learn things from reading romance!

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  20. Oh cool! thanks so much for the link! Def. something I can use.

    Lori Brighton | May 4, 2010 | Reply

  21. You’re welcome, Lori. Thanks for stopping by!

    Laurie Faelan | May 4, 2010 | Reply

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