Some of today’s most popular phrases havesome truly tragic origins.
Certain common sayings are rooted in deep prejudice or gruesome old traditions.
Plenty of them are just plain bummers
Come along on a linguistic adventure
through the origins of the saddest phrases in the English language
If you’ve ever called yourself a”basket case,”
figuring that it’s just a funny way to explain
how stressed out you are about the holidays
get ready for some upsetting news.
As with so many terrible things, this phrase was created by war:
World War One to be exact
According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
American soldiers who lost all four limbs
were referred to by their fellow troops as”basket cases,”
the implication being that they’d now have to be carried around in a basket.
By the mid-20th century,
the term also came to describe people living with mental illnesses,
usually as a way to ignore their struggles.
本质上 将某人看作是一个basket case意味着
Essentially, writing someone off as a basket case implies
that you’re not going to bother
paying attention to them or be helpful inany way.
No matter how you look at it,
the phrase” basket case” has a history of marginalizing people in pain.
This one goes out to all you procrastinatorsout there.
Have you ever spent a long night staring at a glowing screen,
praying that a second wind catches you soon?
For you folks, the word “deadline” is already the most depressing entry in the English dictionary.
But those deadlines aren’t so bad
when you compare them to the original”dead lines” from the 1860s.
在美国内战期间 “dead lines”指的就是画在地上的线
During the American Civil War,”dead lines” were literal lines in the dirt,
rather than metaphorical ones.
These boundaries were drawn either in or around Confederate prisons,
where captured Union soldiers were kept
If one of the prisoners of war decided to walk over the line,
he would be shot.
No extensions, no debates.
“Dead” really meant dead.
Needless to say,
these prisons became infamous for their harsh conditions and poor treatment of soldiers.
“mad as a hatter”这个短语的起源似乎很容易解释清楚
The origin of the phrase”mad as a hatter”seems easy to pinpoint.
After all, one of the most popular characters
in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
is that jolly little fellow with the big hat, defined by his mad outlook.
But it turns out that author Lewis Carroll didn’t invent the term.
His Mad Hatter character was based on the phrase,
rather than the other way around.
” Mad as a hatter”是十八和十九世纪人们对
“Mad as a hatter” is an example of stereotypes
regarding real hat-makers in the 18th and 19th Centuries,
most of whom used a certain substance called mercury nitrate as part of
the hat-making process.
It turns out that when you combine that toxic chemical
with poor workplace safety protocols,
you end up with mercury poisoning.
That causes lifelong ailments ranging from hallucinations to speech difficulties to tremors.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that
using mercury for hat production was finally banned,
and by that point, these negative associations had plagued hat-makers
for more than a century.
Every generation has complained
that kids are breaking cultural taboos and ruining their minds with violent movies
like that one 1988 Christmas flick starring Bruce Willis.
But these complaints sound silly
when you consider that almost anything that
today’s culture deems”gruesome” is a lot less violent
than some of the things our ancestors did for fun.
Case in point: Public hangings, and the phrase”die-hard.”
Not that long ago,
families would line up to cheer as the latest convict was choked to death in front of them.
Back in the 1700s, these hangings didn’t yet use the well-known”drop” method.
No quick drop meant that hangings took longer and were more painful,
which resulted in a lot of individuals thrashing about and struggling to survive
as the rope tightened around their throats.
这些人被看作是“die-hards” 因为他们死得很艰难 一点也不轻松
These folks came to be recognized as”die-hards,” since they died hard, rather than easily.
By the 1800s, the term spread to the battlefield,
as”die hard” evolved to mean fighting to the bitter end.
The general connection between dying hard and stubbornness persisted to the present day,
though the violent connotation has sinceworn off.
If you’ve ever unwrapped a massive birthday present
that you don’t want but that’s too big to get rid of,
that’s what you call a”white elephant.”
Actual white, or albino, elephants are beautiful creatures,
but they have a reputation for
being difficult to take care of.
The”white elephant” metaphor first hit print in the 1850s
to describe a rather peculiar custom in Siam,
in which the king would”reward”a difficult subordinate
with one of these giant, pale animals.
Because white elephants were regarded as sacred animals,
their owners had to provide access
to anyone who wanted to worship them,
in addition to special food, care, and maintenance.
In other words, if the King of Siam gave you a white elephant,
he was trying to make you go bankrupt.
It’s hard to say if this sort of exchangeactually happened.
But the myths surrounding it definitely inspired the phrase,
thus giving us a handy way to describe those ugly presents
that will be occupying too much space for years to come.
人们通常会用短语“off the reservation”
People usually use the phrase”off the reservation”
to describe someone who is doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing.
The problem is that the negative connotations of this phrase are rooted in
the centuries of mistreatment that North America’s indigenous population has suffered
at the hands of the government.
Historically, reservations have been increasingly small spaces
that the United States restricted the native population into
under severe limitations that indigenous leaders were forced to sign.
While the government has violated these treaties multiple times,
the marginalized people have been expected
to stay put without complaint.
Hence today, if any person is doing something that isn’t culturally accepted,
他们会被控诉成就像“off the reservation”一样的土著
they are accused of being like a native individual who is”off the reservation.”
Not only does this phrase have a bloody history,
it also perpetuates harmful stereotypes
regarding oppressed peoples.