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could you tell me the stories behind these idoms?

Help on English vocab, including idioms, slang and sayings

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could you tell me the stories behind these idoms?

Postby starseeker » Sun Jun 15, 2008 12:59 pm

Like every Chinese idioms, i believe there must be a story behind each English idiom.
Could you tell me the related stories of the following idioms?
Thank u very much {-:

* Van Gohg's ear for music
* bell the cat
* swan song
* hand writing on the wall
* to put on the dog

Thank u again for your replay~
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Re: could you tell me the stories behind these idoms?

Postby AlexSeed » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:05 pm

Well i'm not 100% sure, but I belive that the Idiom "The writings on the Wall" comes from the Old Testament, chapter 5, in the Book of Daniel.

Searching Wikipedia (I know, not always the most reliable source) I came accross this exerpt from that very part of the Old Testament.

"King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand...they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and silver, of bronze, of iron, wood, and stone. Immediately the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace."

I'm not sure how it came from that to it's currently meaning, which is to convey that something has been set in motion and now cannot be stopped, even though the outcome is predicatable.
I.E. "The writings on the wall, we are trapped and cannot escape"

Idiom's are often used so naturally for native speakers that the meaning, or origin, is totally lost. It's a real shame!
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Re: could you tell me the stories behind these idoms?

Postby starseeker » Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:20 am

AlexSeed wrote:Well i'm not 100% sure, but I belive that the Idiom "The writings on the Wall" comes from the Old Testament, chapter 5, in the Book of Daniel.

Searching Wikipedia (I know, not always the most reliable source) I came accross this exerpt from that very part of the Old Testament.

"King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand...they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and silver, of bronze, of iron, wood, and stone. Immediately the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace."

I'm not sure how it came from that to it's currently meaning, which is to convey that something has been set in motion and now cannot be stopped, even though the outcome is predicatable.
I.E. "The writings on the wall, we are trapped and cannot escape"

Idiom's are often used so naturally for native speakers that the meaning, or origin, is totally lost. It's a real shame!


well, thank you very much for your help :-)

i have to say it's the same to chinese idioms, more and more people are inventing the meanings by themselves without knowing the original meaning, what a pity...

but it maybe a part of the development of language i think, there will be a day, in which people remember the good aspect of traditional language and chase back to it or mix it with modern language i think :)

everyday will be better in the future.
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Re: could you tell me the stories behind these idoms?

Postby emilykorea » Tue Jun 24, 2008 4:47 am

hey guys! thanks for the nice input..very helpful indeed..:)
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Re: could you tell me the stories behind these idoms?

Postby buttonwillow » Fri Jul 18, 2008 10:29 pm

Dear Starseeker,

Regarding "the hand writing on the wall": Alex's reference to the Biblical story is true, but I disagree slightly with his interpretation. When the writing appeared on the wall, there was no way for the people seeing it to avoid the truth it told. So when you or I see the writing on the wall, we have come to a realization about something, about which we previously had been ignorant or stubbornly blind.

Van Gogh's ear for music--Van Gogh famously cut off his ear, so, without an ear you cannot hear. About someone who has no appreciation for music, we might say as a joke that he has Van Gogh's ear for music (that is, none at all)

Bell the cat - Years ago, before cats were common indoor pets, they generally had to find their own food. From folk fairy tales we know that small animals (like mice) hunted by the cat wanted a way to know when the cat was nearby so they could escape. A bell around the neck would warn the mice the cat was near, but if a mouse could get close enough to the cat to slip a bell around its neck, the mouse was likely to be eaten. To bell the cat means to be faced with a job that might kill you. You commonly hear it as a question: Who wants to bell the cat? Everyone thinks it's a great idea but who wants to step forward and execute it?

Swan song -- Again from folk tales, it was believed that before dying, a swan would sing a most beautiful song. Someone who gives a swan song is about to retire from public life or else make a departure of some significance.

I don't know the origin of "to put on the dog".

Your friend,

Buttonwillow
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