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May 14, 2024 6 mins

We use words and phrases every day, and usually never question why we say what we say. Why do we say “she’s on a wild goose chase” or “we laughed our heads off”? The surprising origin of ordinary phrases. 

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Why do we use certain phrases without questioning where they originated?
I mean, it all starts somewhere right. Amazingly, a lot
came straight from Shakespeare. But there's a fascinating and gory
origin story about the phrase laughing your head off, and
it's tied to a huge modern day movie star. I'm
Patty Steele. Why the heck do we say the stuff

we say? That's next on the backstory. We're back with
the backstory. Do you ever ask yourself where everyday words
and phrases come from? Yeah, not really, if you're like
most of us. We just say stuff because it's what
everybody else says, and we don't really think about the origins.

But amazingly, a lot of that stuff came from a
guy who seems too literate to talk like a regular person.
But think again, Shakespeare's writing can be a little hard
to process. But who knew that we all use words
and phrases on a regular basis that he came up with?
But more on him in a moment. Got another story

that's going to fascinate you. How often when you're talking
about a really funny moment, do you tell somebody you'll
laughed your head off. Well wait a minute, why do
we say that. Well, here you go. Russell Crowe has
won all kinds of awards for his acting, including an
Oscar and he not only can tell you why we
say that we laughed our heads off, but he's got

some DNA in the game. It seems he's related to
an eighteenth century aristocrat, Simon Fraser, the eleventh Lord Lovett
from Scotland. Says Russell. Look him up. He's quite the character,
the old Fox they used to call him. But it
seems his machiavellian way is caught up with him at
the age of eighty, and he became the last man

to have the head chopped off his living body in
the Tower of London. Now that's a claim to fame.
So it's seventeen forty seven and Simon is in prison,
charged with treason for supporting a Scottish takeover of the
British throne and for various other less savory activities over
the years, including a forced marriage and a rape for

political reasons, or so he claimed. So Russell goes on saying,
apparently they set up temporary grand stands for the big
shots in town to watch him die. That was actually
a pretty common practice. By the way, ladies would sit
near the guillotine and do needle point, no doubt getting
splashed with the blood of the convicts along the way. Anyway,

on this festive occasion, Simon, Russell's ancestor, was getting ready
to be taken to the platform where his guillotine awaited.
Suddenly one of the crowded viewing grand stands collapses. Nine
onlookers there to celebrate Simon's execution instead were killed themselves.
What happened next, Well, they told Simon about the deaths

as he was walking to his fate, and he started
to laugh. In fact, Russell says he was still laughing
when the blade hit his neck. Thereby laughing his head off,
I will leave him laughing, right, Okay, back to Shakespeare.
Does listening to somebody quote Shakespeare set your teeth on edge,
and when they're done, you just want to say good riddance.

Well guess what both those phrases and hundreds more all
came from. Will Shakespeare ever get into a tough spot
and say, yikes, I'm in a little bit of a pickle.
You can thank William. In the tempest, the King asks
his very drunk court jester, how camest thou in this pickle?
In other words, how the hell did you get so drunk?

The jester says, I've been in this pickle since I
saw you last Wow, that's a long weekend, right, And
how about this one? I caught a cold yep Shakespeare again.
In Cymbeline, some characters are worrying about a political deal
falling apart, and one says, I hope it doesn't catch
cold and starve some Other everyday phrases from Will include

green eyed monster. When it comes to being jealous, it's
all Greek to me if you don't understand something, and
from the Merry Wives of Windsor we get she's a
laughing stock. When you make a bad romantic choice. Looking back,
you know that love is blind. That's from the Merchant
of Venice. Got a grown up kid eating you out
of house and home, We'll send him packing. Both of

those phrases came from Henry the Fourth, and we can
thank Romeo and Juliet for sending us on a wild
goose chase. Other Shakespeare word inventions include a heart of gold,
it's time to break the ice, or maybe you shared
too much so you wear your heart on your sleeve
from Macbeth. We get the term in one fell swoop.

Ever heard the song from the seventies cruel to be kind? Yep?
Shakespeare from Hamlet, and he was the first guy in
English to use the word zany when talking about someone
who's kind of a nut. Other words, Shakespeare came up
with critic, dwindle, elbow, pushing somebody out of the way,
not the body part, lackluster, lonely, and swagger, to name

just a few. By the way, one word he gets
credit for but did not actually invent is puke glad
to shatter that myth. It's all interesting because throughout the
centuries English has been spoken differently, whether it's events of
the day or just Shakespeare's plays. We're always looking for
a new way of getting our point across. Our language

is constantly reinvented, so when you use a familiar everyday phrase,
you gotta ask yourself where in the heck did that
come from? Hope you're enjoying the backstory with Patty Steele
and subscribing. Thanks to ROBERTA. Baldwin in New Jersey for
inspiring today's story. And if you have a great one

for me to dive into. Please dm me on Facebook
at Patty Steele or on Instagram at Real Patty Steele.

I'm Patty Steele. The Backstories a production of iHeartMedia, Premiere Networks,
the Elvis Durand Group, and Steel Trap Productions. Our producer
is Doug Fraser. Our writer Jake Kushner. We have new
episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Feel free to reach out
to me with comments and even story suggestions on Instagram
at Real Patty Steele and on Facebook at Patty Steele.

Thanks for listening to the Backstory with Patty Steele, the
pieces of history you didn't know you needed to know.
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