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The Meaning Behind “Red Flags” and Other Common Phrases

4) Don’t tread on me

In the pre-Revolutionary War era the idea that the British government would send their convicts to the American colonies outraged many people. The concept was stood on its head when, in 1751, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette published an article arguing that fair play would be to send rattlesnakes to live in the gardens of the British nobility (rattlesnakes are native to the Americas).

The phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” was then adopted for anti-British causes, as the rattlesnake supposedly only strikes if provoked. The coiled rattlesnake was featured on flags for the Continental Navy and have ever since been a symbol of deep patriotic intent.

3) Forty winks

The usage of the number 40 to mean a large amount predates The Bible and was a Hebrew storytelling convention. 40 of something meant a lot of what ever it was and this convention was borrowed for use in The Bible: think 40 days and 40 nights. The first time that “40 winks” was used to mean a good nap was in the 1820s, though the number 40 to mean a lot has been used for many centuries.

The “wink” part of the phrase refers to the act of shutting one’s eyes. Thus, “40 winks” might not be a full night of sleep, but it’s enough to feel rested.

2) As easy as pie

A lot of people mistakenly think that this phrase refers to making pie, but instead refers to the eating of pie, which is considerably easier than making one. A similar phrase is “nice as pie” from the 1850s or “piece of cake” from the early 1900s.

1)Tongue in cheek

While this is a commonly-used phrase even today, few people understand that once upon a time it was considered a sign of skepticism and disrespect to hold one’s tongue in their cheek. The expression was used to bring shame or disapproval upon someone who did not meet your standards.

Via/ Flickr

While the origins of the phrase in the 1820s were pretty harsh, by the middle of the 19th century the term had come to mean something that was funny or to be taken with a grain of salt.

These 12 old sayings are still good advice: Click “Next Page” below!

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