Curiosity Corner: Origins of Common Terms and Sayings


Curiosity Corner



Dr. Jerry D. Wilson

Emeritus Professor of Physics

Lander University

Image result for curiosity word art

Let’s take a look at the origins of some common terms and sayings.

* The best man: Well, it seems that the groom should be the “best man” for the moment. Other than the guy who loses the ring, this phrase is believed to go back to the Scottish custom whereby the man in love would kidnap and carry off the woman intended to be his wife. He would ask friends to help with the task – as did the bride, to help her from being whisked away. The bravest of the groom’s allies, who fought off the bride’s friends, was known as the “best man” of the proceedings.

* The Jeep: The workhorse that became popular during the Second World War was officially listed by the Army as a “GP” (general purpose) vehicle. The initials “GP” were slurred into “GeePee,” which became spelled Jeep.

* Robbing Peter to pay Paul: This might be done when juggling money to spread it around. Seems back in the Middle Ages, St. Paul’s Cathedral in England needed repairs but had little money. To solve the problem, St. Peter’s Cathedral was demoted to an abbey church, which meant that the income from the adjacent estates was appropriated to St. Paul’s – so, (St.) Peter was “robbed” to pay (St.) Paul.

* Buying a pig in a poke: This means someone was cheated. Back in jolly old England, suckling pigs were taken to market and sold in a sack or poke. After buying a “pig” in a poke, some found that they really had a cat or a small dog in the poke – the moral being to check out your poke.

* Get your goat: When this happens, you are annoyed or irritated. Supposedly, this has to do with the old practice of putting a goat in the stable with a high-strung race horse, to calm the horse. All well and good, but shady characters were known to sneak in and remove the goat, so the hyper horse would get upset and potentially lose the next day’s race.

* His name is mud: This is a person not too well-thought-of, and it goes back to Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated the injured John Wilkes Booth for a broken leg on his getaway from shooting President Abraham Lincoln. Mudd was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder the President, and he was sentenced to prison. However, it was later found that he knew nothing of the crime and was simply treating a patient. Mudd was pardoned and released, but not before his name was generally held in contempt. (This phrase has no relation to the saying, “Here’s to mud in your eye.”)

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” —Mark Twain

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to

advertise on lu forum


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here