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Where'd that phrase come from #64

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March 28th, 2014

Labor of love

When we talk about something being a “labor of love,” we’re referring to work that we do for the sheer pleasure of it or perhaps for another’s benefit. The phrase, which we still use frequently today, has one of the oldest origins ever featured in the Where’d it come from series.

“Labor of love” first appeared in the Bible’s Thessalonians: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.”

“I’m not a professional mechanic. Working on my old Chevy is a labor of love.”

(A fine) kettle of fish

Quite simply, to have “a fine kettle of fish” on your hands is to have a mess. At least, that’s how we use the phrase anyway.

But where’d it come from?

Unfortunately, no one really knows for sure. According to Webster’s dictionary, its earliest use dates back to 1742, and its origin is most likely figurative.

It derives from the image of a kettle filled with a muddle of cooked fish, including the eyes, the skin, and the bones. This, of course, is a fine mess or, in this case, a fine kettle of fish.

“Last night, I was stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire and no cell phone. That was a fine kettle of fish.”

Petty cash

Just about every office and household has some kind of petty cash fund at hand. The term, which refers to money intended for small purchases like lunch or office supplies, was first used by British writer Roger North in his The Gentleman Accountant (1715).

“A school-boy,” wrote North, “bid to [account] for his petty Cash, will naturally fall in to do so.” By the 1800s, the phrase was in popular use and endures to this day.

“We decided to throw a modest Christmas party for the office using the remaining petty cash.”

Raise Cain

According to the Bible, Cain had committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel. From this point onward his soul was cursed and his name synonymous with evil.

It should therefore come as no surprise where we get the phrase “raise Cain.” When someone “raises Cain,” he’s causing some sort of trouble.

The term, variants of which include “raise hell,” calls upon the image of the Biblical villain and his accursed spirit. To “raise Cain” is to conjure his ghost through mischievous or evil deeds.

“I remember how, back in my high school days, my buddies and I would stay out all night, drinking and raising Cain.”

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