Share on Facebook

16 Everyday Phrases with Surprisingly Dark Origins

They say the devil is in the details...

Men hatsCreative Lab/Shutterstock

Mad as a hatter

The Mad Hatter is one of the most beloved characters from Lewis Carroll's classic children's book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. While fans love him for his hilarious eccentricity, the idea of a hatter being insane is actually based in history. Hat-makers in the 18th and 19th centuries often suffered mental deterioration because of mercury poisoning. Follow these 41 grammar rules to sound smarter.

Cobblestone road. Large stones on road. Background from big stones. Road surface. Texture of stones. Selective focus.YRABOTA/Shutterstock

Meet a deadline

The meaning of this common phrase will resonate with journalists who are used to being under fire for missing the occasional deadline. We mean that literally because this phrase originally referred to an actual line drawn on Civil War prison grounds, beyond which escaping prisoners would be shot dead. Be careful: these are the mistakes spell check won't catch.

An old book by ShakespeareJasaShmasa/Shutterstock

Be-all, end-all

William Shakespeare's plays mark the absolute height of literary excellence, but it is his enduring influence on everyday speech that matters to the modern person. One of the hundreds of words and phrases that Shakespeare invented was "the be-all and end-all." It describes a defining moment or element in a given situation, the first being when Macbeth was about to kill the king in one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. Here are 20 more words and phrases you didn't know were invented by Shakespeare.

Ancient sword with the bronze handhold on a beautiful backgroundSergeyKlopotov/Shutterstock

To wreak havoc

"Wreaking havoc" has never had a positive connotation, but today it is usually used in a metaphorical sense (i.e. wreaking havoc in one's personal life). The literal cry of the word "havoc" on the battlefield used to grant soldiers permission to commit slaughter or other crimes to their heart's content. England outlawed this practice in the 1300s.

Bible Study on a Wooden TableP Maxwell Photography/Shutterstock

Wash one's hands

This is yet another phrase that comes from literature. The Bible tells the story of Pontious Pilate who ultimately helps condemn Jesus Christ to death. When this happens, Pilate literally washes his hands and proclaims that it simply is not his problem. Find out 12 other phrases you never knew came from the Bible.

Hands athlete with wrist wraps2shrimpS/Shutterstock

Diehard fan

Today, the word "diehard" usually refers to an intense fan of something, like a sports team. Historically, the word has been both an adjective and a command. In many different instances, a "diehard" is someone who fights as long and passionately as possible, making it difficult for others to kill them. These are the grammar myths your English teacher lied about.

Tribal wood carved in decoration of traditional longhouse in Malaysiamichel arnault/Shutterstock

Running amok

This phrase has quite an intriguing history. "Running amok" currently just means that someone or something is out of control and causing general damage. Originally, it was much more sinister. Members of certain Malaysian tribe used to go on seemingly random and severe killing sprees, and the European travelers simply could not figure out why. Initially, they thought it the work of the devil, but it was later assessed to be linked to some kind of mental illness.

Varicose veins on the womans legs,close upWinzy Lee/Shutterstock

Pulling my leg

Today, if someone is pulling your leg, that means that they are fooling you or joking around with you. However, it used to be a very serious matter to have one's leg pulled. In London, it was a popular tactic amongst robbers and thieves to drag people down by the legs before stealing their possessions.

The tarot cards with crystal, candle and book. Halloween and magic still life, fortune telling seance or black magic ritual with mysterious occult and esoteric symbols, divination rite Vera Petruk/Shutterstock

Got gypped

Gypsies (a.k.a. the Romani people) have been targeted and criticized for a long time. Throughout history, people have hatefully and wrongfully viewed them as thieves and low lives. This idiom stems from that prejudice, claiming that if one was cheated out of money or quality of product, it was reminiscent of what the gypsies would do. Find out sign language's own set of grammar rules.

Siamese Freshwater Crocodile from Samut Prakan Province thailandAnake Seenadee/Shutterstock

Crocodile tears

Someone who cries crocodile tears is someone who isn't actually sad at all, but just feigning the emotion. In medieval times, however, it was a popular myth that the vicious predators would indeed feel sorrow for the prey that they killed and ate.

View Slides 11-16