At least 10 times a day, I bet you’ve heard an adult or two wisely say an idiom to explain the mysteries of life. From “beating around the bush” to “breaking the ice,” society has gradually accepted these strange phrases. But, seriously, what do they even mean?

1. Break the Ice

Before the wonderful highways we know and love today, people used to deliver packages by ship. However, due to frigid temperatures and obscure locations, the water would commonly freeze over, trapping the ships. The workers on the ship would have to jump down and “break the ice” with their fancy ice picks. This led to pleasant interaction with other ship crews. Eventually, “breaking the ice” was not about overcoming freight obstacles, but rather socializing with acquaintances.

2. Butter Someone Up

This phrase, although somewhat strange, means to “kiss-up” or look up to someone. This obscure idiom actually has Indian origin. Long, long ago, it was respectful to chuck butter balls at statues of Indian Gods. So, by saying that you’re “buttering someone up,” you’re praying to their purity with dairy products. Enjoy.

3. Cat Got Your Tongue?

According to, “The English Navy used to use a whip called “Cat-o’-nine-tails” for flogging. The pain was so severe that it caused the victim to stay quiet for a long time. Another possible source could be from ancient Egypt, where liars’ and blasphemers’ tongues were cut out and fed to the cats.” So, when you ask someone if the cat’s got their tongue, you’re basically asking if they’re an abused soldier. Aren’t these idioms just fabulous?

4. Barking Up the Wrong Tree

This phrase, a polite way to say “You’re wrong!” in everyday society, actually originated from hunting dogs failing at their jobs. When dogs would chase after a prey with wings, the bird-like creature would fly up into a tree. Instead of staying in that same tree, though, it would smartly and quietly fly away. These dogs, a bit dim-witted and near-sighted, would not be able to tell that their prey flew away. They would then, well, bark up the wrong tree. Have fun comparing your acquaintances to hunting dogs. 

5. Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

And finally, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This phrase is very scarcely used, meaning not to throw out valuable things with invaluable things. As well as a ridiculous phrase, it also has a ridiculous meaning. Long ago, people only bathed once a year, with the same bathwater. Gross, right? They would then proceed, in order of family importance, to take a bath. In the same, dirty water. First the guys, then the girls, then the children. The last in this “hygienic” procession would be the infants. By then, the water would be so filthy that people often couldn’t see their own babies. It was a friendly reminder to forgetful mothers: don’t throw your children out of windows with murky water, people.

And there you have it! 5 confusing idioms with powerful meanings.

Or not.



  1. You are confused about the meaning of some of the idioms. To Butter someone up is completely wrong. And it’s blasphemes not blasphemers.