The way it works is, people use old saying and expressions, but have no idea whatsoever where they came from (or is some cases, what’s even begin said).

In my own ongoing fascination with exploring this area of the English language, here’s another list and a bit of information regarding the possible origin of each.

•Your name is mud.

Whether it’s his, her, your or my name, everyone knows if it’s mud it’s not a positive thing.

One school of thought is that the phrase began with Dr. Samuel Mudd, who assisted John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1865. Mudd gave medical assistance to Booth, who broke his leg during his escape, and was later convicted and then pardoned for his role in the murder.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Another is that it originated some 40 years earlier with a passage in a British book indicating your name is (or will be) dirty as mud if you do something wrong or bad.

Either way, it ain’t good.

•Red handed.

It’s well known that when someone is “caught red-handed,” they’re caught in the act of doing something sneaky, wrong or even illegal. The saying probably began with similar meaning, as hundreds of years ago a murderer might literally have red hands stained by a victim’s blood. It likely launched with something like “taken red-handed,” and evolved into the “caught” version.

•Easy as pie.

The phrase can frequently be heard in descriptions of something pleasurable or requiring little effort. It probably dates back to the 1800s and the pleasure and ease associated with eating a scrumptious pie.

•To a T.

A saying certainly recognizable as referring to something working or fitting well, its origin is sketchy at best. Possibilities include everything from golf tees, to t-squares, to completing the letter “t” by crossing it, to a phrase from an early 17th century play, “I’ll quote him to a tittle.”

No Internet back then, so no conclusive documentation.

•Get your goat.

A commonly used saying that we all know means to annoy, irritate or anger someone. It’s another example of slang of somewhat unknown origin.

Maybe it came from the horseracing world’s past, when goats were placed with racehorses to keep them calm. If someone wanted a given mount to perform badly, they might have removed its goat.

Then again, it may have begun centuries ago in France, when taking a peasant’s goat would have been a catastrophic hit to their income.

Then again, it might stem from the word “goad,” which means irritate.

Then again – aw, heck, this is really getting my goat.

•Egg on your face.

It’s widely accepted that if a person has egg on their face, they’ve done something silly or embarrassing.

Among the possibilities for its origin are stage actors being greeted by a shower of eggs by an unappreciative audience. Another dates back to when wealthy people ate soft-boiled eggs and the yellow yolk was visible on a person’s lips or beard after missing the mark a bit.

•Eat crow.

When someone is tabbed with making a mistake or an erroneous decision, someone else might hope they pull the humility card and admit it, by doing this.

The phrase it yet another without indisputable origin, but since eating crow is largely thought of as something undesirable (actually, yucky), it could easily have become linked to a person’s unwanted task of acknowledgement and apology for a mistake


The origins of this odd word associated with noise, protest or commotion are – again – far less than “written in stone.” But it may have started in the 1700s in northern England and Scotland, with the word “hollo” or “hullo” (meaning “hello”), being combined with a similar, rhyming partner, with the end result forming a way of expressing the uproars common in those parts during those days.

Maybe the current American slang version came from wild times in the Ozarks, who knows?

•Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

My dad sometimes said this meaning I shouldn’t do something out of spite or revenge that would cause more harm to me than someone I was mad at. It’s an ancient concept that even shows up in a Latin proverb at the turn of the 13th century that basically said, “he who cuts off his nose takes poor revenge for a shame inflicted on him.”

The modern version of the phrase became popular in England in the 19th century.

There are plenty more old sayings left (like thousands), so stay tuned for part 9.

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