People Explain Which Popular Sayings They Just Don't Understand
Image by suju-foto from Pixabay

Most languages come with a lot of weird idioms and sayings. Where they began, no one really knows. Yet they're passed down from generation to generation, and many times the people who say it don't actually know what it means.

These can get super confusing. I would say to not think too hard about it, but this is Reddit after all. Bubbrub13 asked:

What's a popular saying you don't really understand?

​These next few sayings really don’t make sense when it comes to what they actually mean.

The explanation makes a lot more sense.

“When someone has a "laundry list" of things to do. With the implication that there is a lot to do.

Who has ever made a list of their laundry?”


“The idiom comes from the advent of laundry services. Basically, before people had washing machines in their houses, you'd ship your clothes off to the laundry service to have them washed and folded.

You'd include a list so that you knew what they gave them. Nowadays you still see laundry lists in fancy hotels!”


Sometimes the full saying gets shortened over the years.

clam GIFGiphy

“Happy as a clam.

Why are clams happy?"


“The full phrase is ‘happy as a clam at high tide’. Because at low tide a person with a shovel can cause the clam to become soup."


​You really need the whole phrase for it to make sense.

"The proof is in the pudding."


“It's a shortened version of the phrase.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Or in other words to know how good some things are, you have to try them.

(source- NPR)”


Hardcore, indeed.

"’The whole nine yards’. I know what it means, but don't grasp where the meaning originated. I have been told that it refers to making of a nice dress or a wedding dress, which would use the entire nine yards in a bolt of fabric. But that's just apocryphal. And does the term have any relation to the phrase ‘dressing to the nines?’”


“It's from World War 2. Specifically refers to the length of ammo chains on aircraft were 27 feet long. So if you fired all bullets at a target, you gave them the full 9 yards.

source- pretty sure I heard Dan Carlin mention it in Hardcore History”


So far, it seems like a lot of these come from way back when, during times where they made a lot more sense. But these next few are the real head scratchers.

I don’t get this one either.

Comforting 30 Rock GIFGiphy

"’There, there.’

I understand it's said when consoling someone in pain, distraught or just plain sad. Letting them know you are there. What I don't understand is the use of the word ‘there’, twice.

I'd understand consoling with ‘I'm here, I'm here’.

I'd understand consoling with ‘it's going to be ok, it's going to be ok’.

But...there...said twice? What does it mean?”


This one means the opposite of what you think it does.

"’Got my work cut out for me.’

I've been told that this means that your task/job will be difficult. It sounds like it should mean that your work will be easier to do. I don't get it.”


“Yeah, the original meaning was from tailoring clothes, where the material would literally be cut out and prepared ahead of time, and then you have ‘your work cut out for you’.

So it means you have work ready to go and clearly you'll be busy and not just sitting around waiting for stuff to happen, but it doesn't necessarily imply that the work is especially hard.

But for most people having work in the backlog is arduous enough that it carries some implied difficulty, which then gets attached as a connotation to the saying.”


No worries.​

"’I slept like a baby.’

It understand it is supposed to mean that you slept well, but almost very baby I have ever been around wakes up crying every couple hours.”


“It means you slept without worries as babies don't have to worry about anything. For us that translates to a better sleep because of less stress.”


I have been saying so many of these without even knowing where they came from.

Well that’s awkward.

Glove Penetration GIFGiphy

“A friend is a phlebotomist (they're the ones who draw your blood when you get LA work done). She had a staff member who was not a native English speaker.

My friend was walking from her office to the waiting room when she overheard the staff member with a patient. My friend's eyes widened and she asked the staff member to come to her office after the client left. Here's their conversation.

F--Friend S--Staff Member

F: So I heard you chatting with your patient before the draw. What were you chatting about?

S: Well, I told him to have a seat. Then after he confirmed his name and blood work I told him I had to grab a new latex glove because one was torn, so I told him I'd be right with him.

F: Yes, but what did you say exactly?

S: Oh! No glove no love!

F: (trying desperately to contain a grin) And do you know what 'No glove no love means'?

S: Yess...

F: Well, what do YOU think it means?

My friend spent the next few minutes explaining that the phrase means 'no condom, no sex', to the absolute terror of her staff member.

S: But..but...I say that to EVERYBODY. OH MY GOD.

aaaaannnnd scene."


Very different from its actual meaning.

“‘Pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ is used to mean you should put the work in and get things done despite hardships, but originally it was used to describe an impossible task.


“That one bugs me the most, it literally means you cannot accomplish this alone, you need help from others and it has gotten co-opted to mean you just have to try harder.

Now granted the people saying this don't usually want those they are saying it to, to actually succeed.”


On accident or on purpose?

"’On accident’ as in ‘I did that thing on accident’

For my entire 50 years, it's always been ‘by accident’ but now all of a sudden I am hearing people say ‘on accident’ and it makes no sense grammatically at all.”


“Most likely formed based on analogy with the opposite adverbial 'on purpose'.”


Well I definitely learned a thing or two today. It’s interesting how we go about saying all of these phrases, without actually knowing what they mean.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and try to sleep like a baby.​

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