Zodi’s Blog

The Origins of Phrases


I know that this doesn’t sound like it will be the most interesting post in the world, but I assure you that this will be the most interesting post in the world. You’ll want to buy this post a Dos Equis by the time you’re finished. Every day people say between 3 and 11 phrases that have deep historical roots and meanings. It is assumed by many scholars that most of these phrases originated in one of three logical places; the Bible, Shakespeare, or was originally nautical lingo. I’m here to ‘blow the lid’ off of these false presumptions right now. Like Dan Brown or Kathleen Neville, I’m going to rewrite history in a more entertaining fashion uncover the truths that have been long buried by shadowy conspirators. So without any further hoopla (my hoopla machine is out of hoop) let’s begin…….



‘Like Finding a Needle in a haystack’

The origins of this phrase started way back in 400AD with Attila the Hun’s little brother Hypo. He started his career fighting alongside Attila and the rest of the Huns, and he was a fierce, but small boned warrior. After an unfortunate Achilles heel injury (ironic, I know) he was unable to take part in the epic battles his brother waged, and soon became addicted to Oxy-Contin. The Huns used Aetna as their insurance provider, and being Aetna, they claimed the bum heel was a pre-existing condition. Hypo was left with little option but to switch to the smack. The White Huns had already made inroads into Afghanistan, so Hypo began making monthly re-up trips while claiming to be silk trading.

Young Hypo bore a strong resemblance to Pete Doherty

Young Hypo bore a strong resemblance to Pete Doherty

Hypo soon began injecting the heroin by inventing the world’s first needle. It was copper and silver, and a bit clumsy, but it got the job done. In trying to hide his addiction from his brother (who was known to be a bit of a hot-head) Hypo hid his needle in Attila’s stables. After the great conqueror left for battle, Hypo began desperately searching through the bales of hay for the hidden needle. This task was made even more difficult by the fact that poor Hypo couldn’t stay off of the ‘shitting hole’ for more than 10 minutes. It took him 4 days of pure misery, but eventually he found his needle, put Comfortably Numb on the 8-track, and nodded out. From that day forth whenever something was difficult to locate, he’d exclaim, “That’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” and then softly chuckle at his inside joke. It caught on in their circles, and the rest is in the history books (or will be soon).



‘Bite the Bullet’

The general consensus is that ‘bite the bullet’ started off as a wartime phrase because wounded soldiers would literally have to bite down on a bullet to keep from screaming during battlefield surgeries. Not true.


King Henry The 1st of England was perpetually paranoid about being poisoned. Because of his almost obsessive compulsion for candy Pop Rocks (which were newly invented) he had to have a cache of alchemists/sorcerers/candy makers brought in from far and wide to make the deliciously explosive candy. King Henry had little trust for these foreign, mostly Asian men. So he would always have his court jester William Whittington try them first. This was fine by William because he loved the candy as well. Originally it didn’t come in tiny little pieces like it does today; it came in large, bite size nuggets which were called bullets.  


It turned out that there was an assassin in their midst after all. An Asian man had been smuggling in gunpowder from China which he then mixed with acetone peroxide to make a really, super explosive treat fit for a king. When poor William bit into the first chunk, most of his face exploded into a grisly spray of blood, bone, and brain. Think Bud Dwyer.


After the initial shock, the always jovial and lighthearted king exclaimed, “Looks like our young Bill really bit the bullet this time.” The phrase stuck and eventually became synonymous with facing a dire consequence.


Whittington already looks nervous and this was taken pre-shotgun blast to grill

Whittington already looks nervous and this was taken pre-shotgun blast to grill


Ironically William was an ancestor to Harry Whittington, the man who Dick Cheney shot in the face. The Whittington’s apparently have shitty luck when it comes to associating with men of power.



‘Pass The buck’ and ‘The Buck Stops Here’

While it is assumed that ‘pass the buck’ was a poker phrase in the 19th century and ‘the buck stops here’ was coined by Truman, both of these premises are incorrect. The truth is much more about sexual deviance than gambling or presidential responsibility. 


After first finding out that the Skull and Bones society was in fact a gay flee club from Muammar Gaddafi via Jay, I did a little more research and found the real origin of these phrases.


The year was 1834 and S & K was beginning its third year of existence when an eager junior by the name of William ‘Buck’ Thurston was ‘tapped’ for membership*. Being a born masochist he fit right into their gay glee club games. Then things began to get out of hand. Like ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ out of hand; I mean come on, nobody wants to see all that. Anyway, Buck quickly fell into a ‘The Gimp’ type role and the boys started using young Buck as a Bones depository. As soon as one young aristocrat was finished with him another would immediately yell, “pass the Buck!”  

It was 3 long years later and Buck was near collapse when a deep, resounding voice boomed across the dungeon, “pass the Buck.” When the other boys led Buck by his choke chain to the distinguished gentleman they were astounded to see that it was the rising politician James Polk. As soon as Polk was done poking Buck, he yelled in that same strong voice, “The Buck stops here.” They let the boy go, and as you all know, Polk went on to become the 11th president of the United States. Nobody really knows what happened to Buck, but it is rumored that he became a high school gym teacher.

*The original use of ‘tapped’ as a sexual connotation also began with the Skull and Bones.-Three for the price of one!



It is my hope that the next time you use or hear one of these phrases you will remember Hypo, William, or Buck, and you will tip your cup to these great men of history. Please let me know, if you would like me to uncover the roots of any of your favorite phrases. I’m a little busy as Kathleen Neville is writing a new book, and I’m her only researcher/fact checker, but I will try to get to your request by next week.  


October 5, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. As President of the Ohio Chapter of the “James K. Polk’s Head Should Be on Mount Rushmore Movement”, I appreciate you shedding the light on yet another unappreciated fact about America’s greatest President, James K. Polk.

    Your Certificate of Honorary Membership is in the mail. Cheers Scott!!

    Comment by Matt-Man | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • I’m honored to be awarded honorary membership in the “James K. Polk’s Head Should Be on Mount Rushmore Movement.” I’m so honored in fact that I just felt ‘movement.’ I wonder if he, being America’s greatest president, is responsible for the Polka, and the Polka dot? If so he’d ultimately be responsible for the itsy bitsy teeny weeny little polka dot bikini. That would solidify his rightful place on the Mount!

      Thanks Matt-Man!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’ve long been perplexed about the origins of “much ado about nothing” so perhaps you can solve that for me.

    Fun post. Cheers.

    Comment by David | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • I’ve added ‘much ado about nothing’ to my ‘to do’ list and will have it for you by next week.

      Thanks David!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’d like to *get on the bandwagon* before I *fall from grace* because I heard
    *a stitch in time saves nine*

    Comment by Micky-T | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • I see that this is going to be a long running subject. I’ll never have to worry about material again!

      Thanks Micky-T!!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 5, 2009 | Reply

  4. Yup, I definitely want to take your blog out, get it drunk and have my way with it. Dead sexy.

    ok, here’s one for you:
    “watch your p’s and q’s”

    Comment by Candy | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • Don’t threaten my blog with a good time! P’s and Q’s are on my list. By the way, my blog is available next Friday.

      Thanks for the compliments Candy, you know I love it!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 5, 2009 | Reply

  5. You were right, Scott, after reading this post I totally wanted to go out and buy it a Dos Equis! Nicely done, my friend.

    I’ve used all of these phrases myself, although to be honest I knew nothing about their origin until now. And to be even more honest (it’s my new shtick”), with the exception of ‘Like Finding a Needle in a haystack’, I actually have no idea what they mean.

    Regardless, I refuse to let something as silly as my own ignorance, stop me from dropping random “idiom bombs” like nobody’s business.

    Boss- “Bschooled, can you update me on the budget forecast you were supposed to do last week?”

    Me- “Quit passing the buck.”

    Boss- “Sorry?”

    Me- You know, the buck stops here. I had to bite the bullet, last week, so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to finish it.”

    Although he doesn’t tell me so personally, I’m pretty sure he’s quite impressed with my “Phrasiage” (?) skills.

    Great stuff, Scott. As always, you make me want to be a wittier blogger.

    (btw, that last line was written in greeting card format)

    Comment by bschooled | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • My blog would love a round, and it wouldn’t mind a shot or two. Maybe SoCo? Are you up for a proper party with my blog?

      I love your new shtick of being completely honest, although it didn’t work out so well for me. I think being a female is definitely advantageous to the whole honesty shtick. I kept getting beat up when huge, ugly guys kept asking me “What’s your problem?” and “Do these jeans make my ass look big?”

      That dialogue between you and your boss perfectly exemplified the uses of our phrases in the lesson today. I give you an A plus with 5 gold stars. I’m sure that your boss is impressed with your “Phrasiage(?)” – Beautific new word as well. And “Dropping idiom bombs” is not only my new favorite phrase, it’s my new favorite hobby!

      You complete my……
      business projects. (that was also a card) and then I’d write: because I come up with too many fairly decent ideas, but since I seem to have ADD and ADHD and OCD and probably a mild case of that Assburgers syndrome. You know that thing that makes you almost autistic but not full-tard? That. But I have you to guide me through and complete all the work so Thank You B!!!! Happy…..I forgot what the card was about now.

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 5, 2009 | Reply

  6. Wow! Not only is your blog entertaining as hell, it’s educational too. In the “Things you never learned in school, but need to know” way even. Hell, I never even knew Attila was a hot-head. I always assumed he was the type to end his day sitting on the back deck of his house, looking out over the scenic landscape, sipping a dram of his favorite Kentucky Bourbon (Woodford Reserve, I assume, since it’s my favorite too) and reflect quietly on the amusing happenings of the day.

    But now, I know the truth.

    Comment by Jay | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • I had no idea that Attila was a hot-head either until doing extensive research.* I always assumed that he was the contemplative philosopher type who waged war only to be able to finance the life that he dreamed of. I always pictured him as Bodhi from Point Break. I came to find that I was way off the mark.

      While he did enjoy his drink (and smoke) he always became violently delusional after indulging. He’d then engage in despicable and reprehensible acts of cruelty. He was a bad, bad man. I’m pretty sure his wallet said ‘Bad Mother Fucker.’

      *Extensive research consisted of watching a one History Channel/E- Entertainment collaboration about Attila.

      Thanks Jay!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  7. “bones depository” is a great phrase. I’m using it round the water cooler this morning. Attributed to you of course

    Comment by nursemyra | October 5, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks Nursemrya, feel free to run with it!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  8. You are on a roll, Scott. Must be all that Spanish wine (which I believe the natives call “fly,” like as in those chicks from “In Living Color”).

    Fine, fine stuff all the way through, especially Biting the Bullet. Homicidal candy is a comedy saltmine. (By which I mean that you have to work a bit harder to get the punchline set up, but when it arrives it’s pure comedy salt. The Romans used it for currency, for fuck’s sake!)

    I am left with one question though: Does anyone possess a picture of Pete Doherty with both eyes fully open? Or does this have something to do with a missed mental connection (on my end) with “Eyes Wide Shut?”

    Comment by Capitalist Lion Tamer | October 9, 2009 | Reply

    • CLT- My ‘roll’ could be attributed to all the fly Spanish wine, or it might be all of the MDMA. I’m not sure which, most of my neurons stopped firing days ago.

      I appreciate the heady compliment. I have a friend who is a currency trader on Wall St. and he strongly urged me to put my money into two hot currencies; the Yuan, and Epson rock salt, as both are currently trading well above the US dollar.

      No missed connection on your part. I think the fact that he always has one eye closed has to do with the fact that he now shoots up directly into his eye. He claims that the optic nerve connecting to the diencephalon gives him the best high he’s ever had. I personally think that it’s because all of the veins in his body have collapsed.

      Thanks CLT!!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 9, 2009 | Reply

  9. Scott…

    You’ve reached a whole new scary level of smart.

    Here’s some I’d like to see researched.

    A bird in the hand is worth two in the butch.

    If the shoe fits, walk a mile in it.

    Comment by Claire Collins | October 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Damn, you’re always pushing me out of my comfort zone. You remind me of my Advanced Quantum Theory teacher in the 4th grade. Or my Algebra I professor in my 7th year at Pitt.

      I’ll give it best shot.

      Thanks Claire!!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 9, 2009 | Reply

  10. I feelz edumacated. Do you happen to know where the phrase, “Wash my balls for a dollar” came from?

    Comment by Ramblin' Rooster | October 12, 2009 | Reply

    • Although I haven’t heard that one too much, I will put it in the back of the list. Is it one that you perhaps coined??

      Thanks Rooster!

      Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 12, 2009 | Reply

      • I might have said it a time or twelve in mixed company…

        Comment by Ramblin' Rooster | October 19, 2009 | Reply

        • Did the mixed company include homeless ‘chicken heads’ by any chance?

          Comment by Scott Oglesby | October 19, 2009 | Reply

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