Out on a limb


out on a limb


Time for our newest monthly installment in the feature that both educates and amuses as we venture to the past to find out just how those phrases we all love so much came to be.




bygones No sense crying over the past…

Let bygones be bygones – In the 15th century, a bygone was simply ‘a thing that has gone by’, i.e. a thing of the past.

As time progressed, ‘bygones’ came to refer specifically to past events that had an unpleasant tinge to them; for example, quarrels or  debts.   So, there is a little more to the phrase ‘let bygones be bygones’ than to the more literal ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ or the old proverb ‘let all things past, pass’.  ‘Let bygones be bygones’ uses both  meanings of the word ‘bygones’ and  means, in extended form,  ‘let the unpleasantness between us become a thing of the past’.

silver liningTime to look up, for things to look up.

Every cloud has a silver lining –

The phrase, meaning every bad situation has some good aspect to it, has its origin in one of the old masters, John Milton, who coined the phrase in Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634:

…Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night? I did not err; there does a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night, And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.

‘Clouds’ and ‘silver linings’ were referred to often in literature from then onward, usually citing Milton and frequently referring to them as Milton’s clouds. The first occurrence of our familiar phrase came in 1840, England:

…”there’s a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it.”

After the Victorian era, the current form began to show up more often.


rains poursSo, is it happy or sad?

When it rains, it pours – This phrase is universally used as a sign of bad news, but originally it was for either good or bad.

“One stroke of good (or ill) fortune is often followed by many other instances of luck (or misfortune) when you least expect them.”  The proverb dates back to the eighteenth century. In 1726, English physician John Arbuthnot published a book entitled ‘It Cannot Rain But It Pours.’ Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope collaborated on an essay entitled “It Cannot Rain But It Pours.”

The saying, in a slightly different form, is the slogan for Morton Salt.  The company developed a salt that would be free-running even in damp weather. In 1911, a little girl with an umbrella and her now-famous slogan, ‘When It Rains It Pours,’ were created to promote this new product in a national consumer advertising campaign.

Despite the free-flowing salt, most people use this phrase with a sad shake of the head and a resigned sigh.

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