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Where'd that phrase come from? #35

Created date

August 4th, 2011

Mind your own beeswax  

There are a couple of possible origins for this phrase. One goes back a few hundred years when smallpox epidemics were still pressing concerns. Those lucky enough to survive a bout of the painful pustules would often have scars left on their faces. Women sometimes filled these pock marks with beeswax before covering them with makeup. The problem was that on a hot day, the wax would melt. If you noticed this happening, it was a breach of etiquette to tell another lady that her filler was running. In polite society, a lady minded her own beeswax. The other possible origin refers to a time when people used wax seals to seal their letters. A sealed letter was private, hence minding your own beeswax. "My parents have the bad habit of prying into things that I d rather leave private. I wish they d mind their own beeswax."


This term comes from the title of Joseph Heller's 1961 novel Catch-22. At one point in the story, Heller presents a paradox in which U.S. Air Force members who applied for exemption from dangerous flying missions on the grounds of insanity proved themselves sane in the process, the rationale being that no sane person would willingly put themselves in harm s way. On the other hand, those who volunteered to go proved themselves insane for doing so willingly. Sane or insane, all of them were sent. ' The paradox is that an attempt to escape makes escape impossible hence today s usage of the phrase to describe a no-win situation. "When the deer walked in front of my car, I found myself in a catch-22 predicament. I could swerve and go into the ravine or hit the deer. Either way, my car would be totaled."

Get your goat  

This phrase comes from an old English folk belief that a goat in the barn would have a calming effect on the cows. To annoy or retaliate against your neighbor, you might run off with his goat, leaving his cows unsettled and perhaps worse for the wear in the way of producing milk. "It really gets my goat when people interrupt me mid-sentence."


Farmers used haywire, an extremely thin-gauged wire, in baling machines. In fact, it was so thin that it was prone to tangling. Naturally, this is where we derive our usage of the term to describe complete disarray. If you imagine an irreversibly tangled ball of wire, it's an apt visual portrayal of a situation that has "gone haywire." "My computer went haywire the moment that spyware got on my hard drive."