Fun English Idioms of Greek Origin

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1. Resting on his laurels

Resting on his laurels, means someone, after receiving some accolade or badge of honour, for past efforts, has given up all efforts to better himself, has become lazy, and lives with the memory of his past glory.

In ancient Greece, laurel leaves were considered a symbol of victory, a status symbol, associated with the God Apollo.

laurel wreaths were presented to victors of the Pythian Games (6th century BC).

2. Gordian Knot

The Gordian Knot; an extremely difficult, complicated, intricate problem, solved in a creative manner.

In 333 BC, Alexander the Great, while marching through Anatolia, modern-day Turkey, arrived in the city of Gordium, where the founder, Gordius, a peasant farmer, who, years ago, had been declared king, when the oracle at Telmissus (the ancient capital of Lycia-Anatolia), had declared that the next man to enter the city on an ox cart, would be king.

In appreciation for this honour bequeathed to Gordius, his son, Midas, tied the cart to a pole, using an intricate knot, whoever, announced a local oracle, could unravel this complicated knot, would become ruler of all Asia.

Many were the men who battled with this elaborate knot, but to no avail, until that is, Alexander the Great, after struggling with the dratted knot, lost patience, thought outside the box, decided it did not matter how the knot was untied, and with one stroke of his sword, sliced through the knot, and, after conquering Asia, became ruler, fulfilling the prophecy.

3. Adonis

To liken, or call a young man today, Adonis, is to concede he is of the utmost physical beauty.

In Greek mythology, Adonis, a shepherd boy, who represented youth, beauty and desire, the mortal lover of the Goddess Aphrodite, was considered one of the most handsome men of ancient Greece, so attractive in fact, his name became a metaphor for beauty.

4. To blow hot and cold

The idiom, to blow hot and cold, means, to be inconsistent, to frequently change one’s mind.

This phrase, again, comes from one of Aesop’s fables, ‘The Satyr and the Traveller’; one winter’s day, a traveller happens upon a satyr (a mythical creature, half man, half goat), who invites the man into his house.

The traveller accepts, ‘will you eat with me’, asks the satyr, ‘with pleasure’, answers the traveller.

As The traveller awaits his meal, he blows on his cold hands, to warm them.

When hot food is put in front of him, the traveller blows upon it, to cool it, causing the satyr to exclaim, ‘I will have nothing to do with a man who blows both hot and cold with the same breathe’, and promptly threw the traveller out of his house.

5. Wrong end of the stick

I saved the best one until last!

To get hold of the wrong end of the stick, is to totally misunderstand or misinterpret something, to get something completely wrong, and trust me, if you were living in ancient Greece, you certainly had to be careful not to get hold of the wrong end of the stick, read on!

In ancient Greece, as you can imagine, the luxury of toilet paper did not exist, in its place, was a sponge, or piece of cloth, tied to the end of a stick, and this, my friends, is what the ancient Greeks used to wipe their posteriors; literally, a case of sh-t on a stick!

To make matters worse, this stick seemed to be communal, as it was kept in a bowl of salt water, next to the hole in the ground; the lavatories of the day, so, you had to be very careful, when the stick was passed around, as needed, not to get hold of the wrong end!

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