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Where'd that phrase come from?

No skin off my back, bald-faced lie, level the playing field, dock your pay

Created date

August 7th, 2014

No skin off my back

Surprisingly, this phrase hasn’t been around for too long. First used in the early twentieth century, its variations include “no skin off my nose” and “no skin off my teeth.” Of course, “no skin off my back” is the most common version in America, and it comes from the age-old punishment of flogging.

A form of discipline often employed on ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, flogging was brutal. The condemned would suffer a fixed number of lashes with a whip, often made of wet leather straps fastened to a handle. Just a few strokes were sufficient to remove skin from a person’s back and leave permanent scars.

So, today, when we say that something is “no skin off my back,” we mean that doing it won’t harm or inconvenience us.

“We have a spare bed, so if you want to spend the night, it’s no skin off our backs.”

Bald-faced (barefaced) lie

Back in the late sixteenth century, the phrase that we know best as “bald-faced lie” was actually “barefaced lie.” The idea, however, is the same. Someone who is acting “barefaced” or “bald-faced” is unconcealed by a beard or mask, the implication being that they are acting in the open. It’s plain to see what they are doing.

As such, a “bald-faced lie” is one that is patently untrue.

“Clearly, the governor was involved in the coverup. For him to say otherwise is a bald-faced lie.”

Level the playing field

The origin of this phrase is pretty clear. Think about the game of football (soccer or pigskin). The slightest incline in the field would give one team the advantage over the other, whether it be kicking the ball more quickly toward their opponent’s goal or running it into their end zone.

Leveling the playing field evens the competition for both sides—hence the meaning of the phrase as we use it today.

“I think silent auctions level the playing field because they force potential buyers to think twice about the quality of their bids. No one knows what another is bidding.”

Dock (your) pay

Nobody wants to have their pay docked, and the mere threat of such action should be enough to rein in a wayward employee. We all know what it means, but where does it come from?

The answer is old English, probably around the 1300s. Originally, to “dock” or “dok” something was to cut it. With Doberman Pinschers, for instance, it is still common practice to “dock” their tails. The docking of one’s paycheck is also an enduring practice. Of course, a paycheck cut short is better than none at all.

“If you’re late to work one more time, I’ll be forced to dock your paycheck.”