Children hear “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” or “your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” Our language overflows with idioms derived from history or legend, extending a deeper meaning to the points we make. Sometimes the connections are obvious, but often these sayings require a learned understanding.

Riot Act. You might want to “read the riot act” to someone, but did you know that 18th century Britain had a legal document named “The Riot Act”? Only 12 people at a time were permitted to protest. Officials read larger gatherings The Riot Act. If protesters didn’t disperse, they were arrested.

3rd Degree. There are times when the “third degree” is warranted. The origin of this idiom has several theories, but one seems most likely. Rumor has it that that Freemasons intensely questioned prospective members. If they passed this process, they became “third degree” members.

The Buck. It’s popular to “pass the buck” instead of taking responsibility. The saying was coined during 19th century poker, when a buckhorn handled knife marked the next dealer. The person having the “buck” took responsibility… for dealing the hand that is. Players would “pass the buck” to avoid accusations of “dirty deal.” President Truman had no problem with the buck. A plaque containing the phrase “the buck stops here” sat prominently on his desk.

These phrases are a “drop in the ocean” in the sea of idioms, and although you might think learning them is a “piece of cake,” it’s an “uphill battle” to teach someone who is “brand spanking new” how to “learn the ropes.” Many won’t ask for help until “the eleventh hour” and only because it’s time to “face the music.” Just “knock on wood” that they decided to “jump on the bandwagon” and “let the cat out of the bag.”

Here’s the “rule of thumb.” “Roll up your sleeves,” “roll with the punches,” and take setbacks “with a grain of salt.”  Some might shed “crocodile tears,” but don’t be “tight lipped.” Just be “on the ball” and teach them not to “look a gift horse in the mouth.” Sooner or later it will become “clear as a bell” and they will “pass with flying colors.”

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