Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Why We Say: Learn by Heart to Lump It


An enlightening resource of why we say

Learn by heart: Think back–are there any poems that you had to learn in school, ones that you still remember and can recite? That, my friend, is an example of memorizing, which the Greeks considered learning by heart since they thought the heart, not the mind, was the seat of thought. Learn by mind, doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? Maybe it’s because the heart is the seat of emotion and when we learn something with our heart, we feel it more.

Lick into shape: Summer is here, I’ve got some time off from work, so I’m going to take on the weeding and really lick the yard into shape. Getting something that is somewhat messy, into a more acceptable form is the usual connotation behind this expression. In actuality? It was once thought that bear cubs were born shapeless and in order to form them up into respectable bear, the mother had to literally lick them into shape. No–I am not going to apply that particular technique to beautifying my yard.

Lily-livered: To be called a coward is one thing, but to be called a lily-livered coward–oh, the shame. The Greeks, once again, possessed an interesting anatomically belief. They believed the liver, not the heart, held passion [see above about learn by heart], and the bile produced indicated a person’s disposition: dark bile indicated strong passion; light bile indicated weakness. However, white bile or lily colored bile meant the person had no courage at all. My question is: how did a person produce the bile? Maybe I don’t want to know. Actually, I don’t want to know at all.

Lock, stock, and barrel: When something is completed this expression is often shared, as in, “I packed up the camper for the trip–everything’s ready to go–lock, stock, and barrel. This expression goes back to the days when depending on a gun being ready to go, as in the three parts: the lock (firing mechanism), the main piece (stock), and barrel, had to pass a readiness check.

Lump it: “You can like it or lump it.” If you have participated in a quarrel, sibling quarrels are a good example, this expression might get tossed out. It refers to how faces are a bit misshapen after crying. If someone doesn’t get their way, they might have a good cry or pout, making their face look lumpy. Basically, accept the situation or get bent out of shape (which is probably another Why We Say investigative entry).

Which expressions are in your vernacular range?

Are they all too old-fashioned?

Is there an expression that you are ever so glad the puzzle of meaning has been revealed?

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