Have you ever wondered where terms such as ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ came from? I have to say I hadn’t until recently.

This week while studying a comprehension on the Crimean War with my year 6 group, I found myself explaining the term ‘in the line of fire’.  The children believed the saying meant they were about to be fired from their jobs. They had not considered  the idea that they were not being shot at. This discussion led me to think about other saying we use all of the time with no understanding about their origin or original meaning.

The History

During the 1500s people had a bath once a year. The men and boys would bath first, followed by the women and then children. The baby was the last to be bathed; by now the water was so dirty that you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. Another saying that has always interested me is ‘it is raining cats and dogs’. This comes from when the houses had thatched roofs, animals used to climb up onto it to keep warm. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip off of the roof. Hence the saying ‘it is raining cats and dogs’.

In the old days the floor in people’s houses was dirt; only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying dirt poor. The rich had slate floors that would get slippery during the winter. Therefore, the home owner would cover the floor in thresh (straw), they would keep adding thresh throughout the winter. However, when the door was opened it would all start slipping out so a piece of wood was placed in the entrance way; hence the saying over the threshold.

What now?

These are just a few examples of phrases you may or may not use, but children may have heard. Use these examples with them to help develop their language but also teach them the history behind the meanings.