Idioms: Part II

In our previous post on idioms, we delved into the history and meanings of to cost an arm and a leg, to hit the nail on the head, a piece of cake, to feel under the weather and once in a blue moon. In today’s post we are introducing five new idioms and providing some background about their usage and history:

  1. to get caught between a rock and a hard place
  2. to pull someone’s leg
  3. to cut to the chase
  4. to spill the beans
  5. to hear something straight from the horse’s mouth

1. To get caught between a rock and a hard place

This idiom describes a situation in which we are faced with two equally difficult options, making it seem as if we are stuck between two rocks. It originates from Greek mythology, the story of Odysseus’s return. According to the myth, he had to sail through a narrow channel, both shores of which posed great dangers, a six-headed sea goddess Scylla or a sea monster Charybdis, creating whirlpools by drinking and belching water. Some believe the Strait of Messina, a channel between Sicily and Italy, is the place where these two monsters live. 

She told me she got caught between a rock and a hard place with her parents – both are equally hard to talk to, and she can’t resolve her issue without their help.

2. To pull someone’s leg 

Some claim this idiom originated in Victorian London, where thieves used to pull at the legs of the people they would steal from in order to distract them! Others believe this idiom has to do with the practice of pulling at the legs of the people who were hanged, to stop their suffering. However, the second explanation does not have a lot to do with the contemporary meaning of the idiom, which is to make someone believe in something as a joke, such as in this example:

When they told me they were moving to Australia, I was sure they were pulling my leg. Then they showed me their one-way plane tickets so I had to believe them. 

3. To cut to the chase

This idiom originates from the American film industry in the 1920s, the most exciting parts of silent films very often being chase scenes! Accordingly, the meaning of the idiom is to get to the point:

After listening to him for twenty minutes, I told him to cut to the chase and tell me if he had gotten the job. 

4. To spill the beans

Some claim this idiom comes from Ancient Greece, where people voted using different coloured beans! White beans represented positive, and black or dark beans negative votes, and if someone spilled the jar containing them, the results of the election would become known prematurely. Similarly, to spill the beans means to reveal a secret:

I told them our engagement was a secret, but they spilled the beans and now everyone knows about it. 

5. To hear something straight from the horse’s mouth

This idiom originates from horse racing. People who would give tips about horses likely to win would be so accurate it seemed the information came straight from the horse’s mouth. Not surprisingly, the other explanation also has to do with horses. When buying them, the buyers would take a look at their teeth to discern their age and condition. Today this idiom is used to express that someone has obtained some information straight from the person with the direct knowledge of it.

heard about this merger straight from the horse’s mouth, the CEO told me about it yesterday.

We hope you find these posts useful and start using idioms whenever you can! 🙂