Sunday, 7 December 2014

Sleep Tight

Compiled by Flo Deems
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Where did some of these old English sayings come from that we've heard all of our lives, but maybe never really thought about their origins? After all, we do know what they mean, right?
"SLEEP TIGHT" - back in the 1500s and maybe even before then, some people could afford to sleep on wooden framed beds so they were off of the floor. These frames had heavy ropes tied from side to side that supported the mattress. Over time the ropes would stretch, so they'd have to tighten them. Hence the saying, "Sleep tight." Later added to that was: "Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite."
"PISS POOR" - They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in the same pot to collect as much urine as possible. Why? Because once a day, someone from the family took the pot to the tannery and sold the urine. If a family had to do this to survive financially, they were called "Piss poor."
"DIDN'T HAVE A POT TO PISS IN" - Worse than the above were some people who were too poor to buy even the pot to collect their urine. And so they were the poorest and lowest of the low.
BRIDAL BOUQUETS - Although not a saying, here's the origin of the wedding custom of having the bride carry a bouquet - Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May! So they still smelled somewhat good in June. However, since they were starting to smell again, brides carried a bouquet of flowers, hoping to hide their body odor.
"DON'T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATH WATER!" - Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of bathing in the nice clean hot water. Then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children could take their turn in the big bath tub. Last of all came the babies! By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.
"IT'S RAINING CATS AND DOGS!" - Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.
CANOPY BEDS - Related to this situation is how canopy beds were developed. With roofs like these, there was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. So people constructed beds with tall posts over which a sheet could be hung to offer some protection.
"DIRT POOR" - Floors in many houses were simply the dirt that the house had been built upon. Only the wealthy could afford stone or slate floors.
THE NURSERY RHYME: "Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot Nine days old." - In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung on a long iron arm over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not have much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving the leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme.
"BRING HOME THE BACON" - Sometimes people could obtain pork and this would be a special occasion. So when they had guests, they would hang up their slab of bacon to show off. This was a sign of comparative wealth, when a man could "bring home the bacon."
"CHEW THE FAT" - Whenever a family did have some bacon and had guests, they would cut off some to share with their guests. They would sit around the fire and "chew the fat."
TOMATOES WERE CONSIDERED POISONOUS! - This delicious fruit that masquerades as a veggie was considered poisonous for about 400 years. Those with money had plates made of pewter, which in those days had a high lead content. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, eventually causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes.
"UPPER CRUST" - Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.
"HOLDING A WAKE" - Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up.
"SAVED BY THE BELL" - also "A DEAD RINGER" - and "THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT" - England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive! So they would tie a long string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.
Now, aren't you glad you know the origins of these sayings and customs? And aren't you glad we live in modern times? Even if bed bugs have made a come-back!
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