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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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A Tale Told by an Idiom
Yesterday one of my Japanese language partners asked me about the "故事" (koji) used in English. What are koji, you ask (as I did)? Apparently they are "idioms derived from historical events or classical literature of China". Did British history yield many idioms in common use?

I have to admit, my mind went blank. It's easy enough to come up with idioms swiped from literature, notably Shakespeare, but history? Most English idioms seem to come from common experiences, crafts and professions, the natural world, and so on. They don't tend to involve famous people or events - or, if they do, they don't stretch beyond a single word (Canutian, anyone?). The best I've come up with so far is "met his Waterloo".

There are some from the classical world - which stands to Britain much as classical China to Japan: "cut the Gordian knot", "Caesar's wife", or even "a cobbler should stick to his last". I could probably think of a few more, but it's still surprisingly thin pickings.

It's not that my mind is badly stocked with interesting facts and anecdotes (many of questionable veracity) about British and classical history, but that they've somehow failed to morph into idioms. We know about Alfred and the cakes, for example, or Robert the Bruce and the spider, but there isn't any common idiom derived from either encounter that might be muttered by people in similar circumstances.

Is there a rich vein of such sayings that has somehow slipped my mind? I would of course be happy to hear suggested examples!

But I was thinking more specific.

To read someone the Riot Act?

The full Monty? (Assuming the folk etymology tracing to Field Marshal Montgomery is true, which it might totally not be.)

Edited at 2016-10-17 07:26 am (UTC)

Ooh, yes, that's a good one! (I mean the Riot Act. I'd not connected the two senses of Monty in my mind, nor heard anyone else do so, but I wouldn't discount the possibility!)

Edited at 2016-10-17 07:28 am (UTC)

I mean the Riot Act.

Great!

I'd not connected the two senses of Monty in my mind, nor heard anyone else do so, but I wouldn't discount the possibility!

Huh. It's the only association I have for the phrase; I assumed it was common! Wikipedia lists Montgomery as one of several possible origins, but World Wide Words thinks it's more likely to trace to the tailoring firm Montague Burton. In which case it would still count, being a historical source? [edit] Okay! You've seen the same link.

Edited at 2016-10-17 07:37 am (UTC)

Yes, either would do. And in fact by mentioning a tradesman, you've just reminded me of another idiom: "Hobson's choice", after the Cambridge carrier livery stable owner.

Edited at 2016-10-17 07:42 am (UTC)

And in fact by mentioning a tradesman, you've just reminded me of another idiom: "Hobson's choice", after the Cambridge carrier.

Nice!

(My brain promptly quit on Britain and started supplying me with classical references instead: Pyrrhic victory, bread and circuses, etc.)

I should definitely have a classical sidebar, given that koji includes Chinese imports. Both of those are excellent.

I should definitely have a classical sidebar, given that koji includes Chinese imports.

If you open it up to classical myth, we'll be here for days—Procrustean bed, labors of Hercules, Greeks bearing gifts.

[edit] All Sir Garnet's British!

Edited at 2016-10-17 08:00 am (UTC)

Indeed - a whole other diet of worms...

(I must admit that "all Sir Garnet" was new to me. bows head in shame)

Edited at 2016-10-17 08:08 am (UTC)

I must admit that "all Sir Garnet" was new to me.

derspatchel just sprung "black as Newgate's knocker" on me!

Ah, I see there are several competing derivations!