Where Words Come From

June 26, 2019


“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not!”

This passage from Matthew 23:37 is the source of our present expression. This expression of protection like that of a mother bird over her young also appears in Psalms l,13:7 “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.” It is amazing how long we have been saying some phrases – this one goes all the way back to the Bible written centuries ago.


In the United States, it is always the hated villain who “eats” dirt or bites the dust when slain.

The picturesque phrase goes back to the ancient Greeks and is found in Homer’s The Illiad, Book II, lines 417-18. It reads “…his friends, around him, prone in dust, shall bite the ground.” Apparently, it is overused quite a bit now and implies little more that to suffer disaster of a moderate degree. Even a businessman “bites the dust” if he fails.


In these days, if one is well heeled, that person probably has plenty of money. He or she is well-to-do rather than down at the heels. Originally, in the 18th century in England, it was a game cock that was well heeled; that is, provided with a good “heel” or artificial sharp spur (or later razor blade) before it faced an opponent in the pit. A person, who had very nice shoes, likewise became seen as being well-heeled. He or she had a lot of money to look pretty sharp.

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