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The origins of 8 common phrases


Lovers of history and language won’t want to miss Katie Waldeck’s fun piece at Care2 about the origin of eight phrases we use every day.

Though we might not wear togas, that doesn’t mean Ancient Rome has faded from our vocabulary and while the king or queen has long been without a head, the phrases their reigns spawned are still on our (thankfully still attached) tongues.

1. “Motley Crew.”

Meaning: A group of misbehaving ne’er-do-wells.

Background: Motley was once a type of fabric, and, eventually, the type of clothing made from the cloth. The most famous motley  wearers in the 16th century were court jesters, and the multi-colored, patchwork fabric eventually became a go-to style for stage performers. Groups of these performers eventually became known as “motley crews.”

2. “Drawing a Blank.”

Meaning: Unable to recall something.

Background: The phrase “drawing a blank” refers to a lottery. In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I decided to raise money through a national lottery system. No scratch tickets or plastic balls with numbers on them were involved! Instead, there were two “lot pots” — one with tickets of players’ names, and the other with an equal number of tickets that had prizes written on them. Not all of them had a prize written on it, though, and the phrase “drawing a blank” was born.

Full story at Care2.

Language trivia.

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