The Book of Leviticus describes the proper ceremonies to be observed on the Jewish Day of Atonement, when the land of Israel would be ritually cleansed of its sins. The procedure was that one goat would be offered to God as a sacrifice, while the other—the “scapegoat”—would be symbolically loaded with all the misdeeds of the nation before being driven into the wilderness. This ceremony was said to have been carried out each year since the Exodus from Egypt. It did, however, acquire one important modification after an unfortunate incident in which the scapegoat wandered out of the wilderness and merrily back towards Jerusalem. To prevent a repeat of this extremely bad omen, subsequent priests arranged that the scapegoat’s journey to the wilderness should start with a headlong plunge down a local cliff. After that, scapegoats became significantly less mobile. We bet you had no idea these 22 words and phrases originated in the military.
“To cast pearls before swine”
This famous phrase is a quote from Matthew’s Gospel: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,” writes the Evangelist, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” This dramatic image—which of course gains extra power from the fact that pigs are considered unclean animals by orthodox Jews—became a favorite in the Middle Ages, first mentioned in English by William Langland in Piers Plowman in the fourteenth century. Charles Dickens used the phrase in his 1848 novel Dombey and Son, to mean “doing a thankless thing.” But the most famous occurrence, which gives a twist to the ancient meaning, is in a story about Dorothy Parker, the great American humorist of the 1920s. “Age before beauty,” said a cheeky young woman while holding a door open for Parker to pass. Quick as a flash Parker replied: “Pearls before swine.” Here are 10 phrases you have always used that are actually trademarked.
“To every thing a season”
This handy aphorism is another piece of wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes, in which the author offers his thoughts on life, death, and what it all means. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” he writes. Warming to his theme, he continues, there is “a time to kill and a time to heal”; “a time to weep and a time to laugh”; there’s even “a time to cast away stones.” The full list has twenty-eight different times, and covers eight biblical verses. With its philosophical and reflective tone, it has become one of the most quoted and most popular passages in the Old Testament, a firm favorite for readings at funerals and other sad occasions. In 1959 the famous words even became a surprise hit when they were set to music by the folk musician Pete Seeger in a song called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Covered by The Byrds in 1965, the track rocketed to number one on the U.S. singles chart—the iron-age lyrics are by far the oldest words ever to have become a chart-topping hit. These are some “modern” words that are actually much older than you’d think.