“By the skin of my teeth”
This is one of the many proverbs that owe their origin to the colorful language of the Book of Job. The tormented hero Job is complaining about his woes. He has become, he says, so emaciated that “my bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” The proverbial meaning is that he has missed death by a tiny margin—as narrow as the (non-existent) skin on a person’s teeth. But biblical scholars have argued endlessly about what the phrase originally signified. Some argue for a more literal interpretation: that Satan kept Job’s mouth—the skin of his gums, jaws, and lips—healthy in order to encourage him to blaspheme against God. More recently, the heavy metal band Megadeath put an interesting slant on the saying when they used it as the title for a track on their third album in 1992. Frontman Dave Mustaine explained to a live audience: “This is a song about how many times I tried to kill myself and just couldn’t get the job done.”
“A house divided against itself”
Without unity there can be no strength In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells a crowd of impudent Pharisees, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” However, the phrase didn’t enter the modern lexicon until it was memorably quoted by Abraham Lincoln in his famous nomination acceptance speech of 1858. Addressing the contentious issue of slavery in the United States, he told an audience of Republican politicians that “a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” His words were prophetic. Three years later, the U.S. government did indeed split, and the resulting civil war between slave and free states cost more than 600,000 lives. The phrase meanwhile, became famous, immortalized as the title of a 1913 movie, a 1935 novel, and, rather grandiosely, an episode of the hit TV series Dallas. Not exactly what Jesus had in mind. Check out these phrases that used to be insults but now people use them as compliments.