Because I like this stuff, here’s another set of old sayings and expressions with descriptions of their origins (or possible origins).

Ballpark figure

Widely known as a rough estimate or approximation, the phrase’s origins are sketchy, but it might have begun with baseball stadium public address announcers providing an estimate of attendance. Then again, it could have begun in the early days of the space race, returning a spacecraft to Earth was not an exact science and a craft was said to be “in the ballpark” if it landed within the pre-designated area.

Break a leg

A phrase often used to wish theatrical performers good luck before they go on stage (especially on an opening night). Stage actors and actresses are well known for sharing a belief in superstitions (or at least for portraying such belief), and therefore steer clear of wishing someone good luck because it might result in bad luck. The term “break a leg” apparently stems from the practice of wishing a thespian bad luck so the opposite will occur.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Diamond in the rough

Commonly used for years to refer to something or someone whose good qualities are hidden, the expression is based on the idea that the beauty of a diamond can’t be seen when it’s rough, or not yet cut or polished.

In cahoots

Easily recognized as meaning partnered with or working with, the origin of this old saying likely stems from one of two French words: “Cahute,” meaning a cabin or a poor hut, or “cohorte,” which originally meant a band of soldiers, and is where the English word “cohort” comes from (again having to do with partnership or affiliation).


A lot of us live in them in these parts, but not many know where the term came from. It’s derived from the Filipino word “bundok,” which means mountain. The popular expression began with American military personnel serving in the Philippines in the early 1900s.

How do you like them apples?

A phrase often used in boasting about something that has just taken place (as if to say “how do you like that?”), it more than likely originated during World War I with the “toffee apple,” a trench mortar bomb resembling an apple with a stick in it that was sometimes used to destroy tanks. The phrase would be yelled after an “apple” took out an enemy, even though the enemy could well have been in no condition to answer.

Egg on

Meaning to encourage someone to do something (usually foolish or unadvisable), the phrase comes from ancient Anglo-Saxon language where the term “eggian” meant to “spur on.” In old Norse language, the word “eggja” had a similar meaning, “to incite.”  The terms were eventually grafted into the English language, transformed into the still common phrase, “egg on,” and took on the more mischievous meaning.

To the nines

Recognized as meaning “to the highest degree” or “to perfection,” the idiom is most commonly associated with attire, as in “dressed to the nines.” Its origin could stem from the fact that that tailors long ago used nine yards of material to make a suit. But it might also have resulted from sharp-looking uniforms worn by the 99th Regiment of Foot, a British Army infantry group formed in 1824.

Turn the tables

Generally accepted as meaning reversing someone’s fortunes in someone else’s favor, the saying actually originated with board games.

Backgammon and other games belong to a class referred to as “tables,” a general name given to those played on a board with dice. If a game isn’t going in a player’s favor, they would have to metaphorically “turn the tables” to win (or in other words, mount a “comeback”).

There you go. That’s some good information, right there. Make sure to share it.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: