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The Meaning Behind “Red Flags” and Other Common Phrases

We use sayings everyday that have origins deep in the past. But, most of the time we hardly stop to think about how these phrases became common use. Well, if you’ve ever wondered why we say something “raises red flags” or “tongue in cheek” then read on to find out how these old phrases came to be.

8) No quarter given

This old saying is still used a lot in modern times to mean “no mercy.” But, where did this phrase come from? Back in the old days, an army or ship would often use the phrase to mean that they took no prisoners (meaning they had no quarters for them to stay in) and would kill anyone from the opposing side that they came into contact with. The term “quarter” wasn’t used as a term for dwelling until the 14th century or so.

This type of warfare was disavowed internationally with the Hague Convention of 1907 which stated that “Prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Government, but not of the individuals or corps who capture them. They must be humanely treated. All their personal belongings, except arms, horses, and military papers, remain their property.”

7) Raises red flags

And, an interesting fact is that the way armies (or ships) signaled to their enemies that they would give no quarter was to raise the red flags. While it wasn’t a universal symbol it was well-known. Today, we use this phrase to refer to a person or deal which does not seem quite right. But, back then the color of the flag was intended to very clearly signal blood and impending doom should one fall into their hands.

6) Busman’s holiday

The term dates back to the 1840s and the advent of the British omnibus, a horse-drawn public bus manned inside by a conductor who would obtain the passenger fares. In theory, in the service of his job he would see the sights through the windows, making a holiday touring in a bus or wagon quite the mundane task. A busman’s holiday refers to any time off spent doing something similar to one’s profession. How many times have you heard that phrase and never thought about where it comes from?

Via/ Flickr

5) Elbow grease

We’ve all heard this term or uttered it ourselves, particularly when talking about getting chores done around the house. The term was first used in print in 1672 and ever since has referred to the sweat of hard work. It has been suggested that the term was in common use by the lower classes and at first was considered somewhat crude.

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