Maybe you don’t spend time ruminating day in and day out on weird colloquialisms that have woven themselves into our everyday language. From “it’s raining cats and dogs” to “the best thing since sliced bread,” these everyday phrases have storied histories.
An idiom is a group of words established by usage, but not easily deduced from the meanings of the individual words. Many times, they also offer advice about how to live and transmit ideas, principles and values of a culture or society. Spend any time immersed in a language, and you will soon pick up on fun idioms.
Since we’re all about teeth at Josey Lane, below are some of our favorite idioms that have teeth and mouth references. If you think we’ve left some out, leave us a comment below with your favorites!
- Like pulling teeth
For those of you with children, this might be a favorite phrase in your house to describe how difficult it is to get them to do household chores! This phrase is used to describe a task that is exceptionally difficult or tedious. This idiom dates back to the 19th century when pulling teeth was FAR more painful. Thanks to modern-day advancements, we’ve made this phrase a relic of the past!
- Cut your teeth
Obviously you can’t actually cut your teeth like you could a fleshy part of your body. And so, this idiom describes how, when, or where someone began their career or learned their professional skills. Many times you hear this in connection to a tangible skill or sports ability.
- Eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
Dating back to the Biblical times, this well-known and multi-culturally saying describes the “law” of retaliation. It means that, in principle, a person who has injured another person is penalized to a similar degree—or, in softer interpretations, the victim receives the value of the injury in return.
- Armed to the teeth
This saying dates back to the time of pirates and primitive weaponry. Back in the day, the arms that pirates used took a significant amount of time to reload, and were sometimes useless in the moment of need as a consequence. To prevent being vulnerable, pirates would carry one gun in each hand and place their knife in their mouth. In this instance, the phrase had a literal meaning. In modern English, it means to have a significant amount of weaponry.
- By the skin of your teeth
Obviously your teeth don’t have skin, so where did this saying come from? This phrase has an ancient history and originates in the Book of Job in the Bible. Meaning to narrowly escape from disaster, the original reference was used to describe Job’s temptations by Satan.
- Bite your tongue
We hope you aren’t commonly biting your tongue in any sense of the word! This commonly used phrase refers to when you are holding yourself back from saying something that you would like to say—typically something that is critical of others.
- Cat got your tongue?
Here’s another saying that we hope no one has ever taken too literally. If you are described as having the “cat got your tongue,” it means you are shy and unable to speak.
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