Where Words Come From

March 18, 2019

AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR 

This phrase means not a moment to spare; at the latest time possible; just making it under the wire. People have been saying it for more than two thousand years, as it is from the Bible. The Biblical origin is from Matthew XX, 1 16: “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard … And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle … He said unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard …that shall ye receive.’ Those who came at the eleventh hour received payment, just as those who had came early in the morning.” Perhaps, it is never too late to receive a penny – or salvation, even at the “eleventh hour.”

TO STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT

This phrase means to act at the most fitting moment; to seize the most favorable opportunity. It was the blacksmith who was originally supposed to do this. If he failed to swing his hammer while the metal on the anvil was still glowing, nothing would do but to start up the forge again and reheat the iron. His time was lost. This is a very old English phrase and first found in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1386: “Right so as whil that Iren in hoot men shoulder smite.” By the way, it is interestingly fun to see how our English spelling has changed in the last 650 years.

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