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Stick to your guns, now, you’re cooking with gas!, all hell broke loose, seen the elephant

Created date

May 24th, 2017
Depiction of a circus elephant emerging from a red and white striped tent

Stick to your guns

The phrase “stick to your guns” is an old one, dating back to the eighteenth-century British variant, “Stand to your guns.” 

Initially, military field commanders used the expression quite literally. That is, they encouraged their troops to hold their positions and fight rather than retreat.

But over the years, the saying became a metaphor for conviction. When a person “sticks to his guns,” as the Americanized version goes, he is standing firm with a certain belief, decision, or course of action. 

In other words, he will not retreat.

“When you establish rules for your child, you have to stick to your guns. Otherwise, he’ll walk all over you.”

Now, you’re cooking with gas!

Today we’re just plain spoiled. Thanks to gas and electricity, we flip a switch when we want a dark room lit; we adjust a thermostat when we want a cold room warm; and we turn a knob on a stovetop when we want cold food hot.

Roughly speaking, slower burning and dirtier fuels like wood and coal were the predominant means of cooking heat in the United States before 1915. Around this time, piped gas was a rare amenity in American kitchens and, by the 1930s, a highly marketable luxury.

Indeed, the phrase “now, you’re cooking with gas!” originated as a natural gas advertising ploy during prime-time radio programs. Ad writers used the expression in reference to someone who was doing well or who was on the right track—the insinuated meaning being that using gas was the right way to cook. 

In time, natural gas became more of an expectation than a welcomed luxury; however, the phrase endured. Like the ad writers of the 1930s, we use it in reference to someone who is on the right track and doing well.

“My father taught me how to drive a stick shift. As we drove, my shifting was smoother and smoother. ‘Now, you’re cooking with gas!’ he exclaimed.”

All hell broke loose

We’ve used this phrase so much over the years that it has become a literary cliché of almost criminal proportions. When we say that “all hell broke loose,” we mean that everything went out of control.

The expression comes from seventeenth-century English poet John Milton’s epic work Paradise Lost, which tells the story of Satan’s downfall and the birth of man (Adam and Eve). In Book IV, Milton wrote, “Came not all hell broke loose?” 

This image of hell breaking its chains and lunging forth with all its fury was too good for English speakers to pass up, destined to become the cliché that it is.

“When the clerk read the verdict, all hell broke loose in the courtroom.”

Seen the elephant

Anyone who has “seen the elephant” has gained a bit of life experience, and often at a cost. Rarely used today, the expression dates back to the mid-1800s with the advent of traveling menageries and circuses. 

Especially by nineteenth-century standards, animals such as elephants were exotic creatures. To actually see one up close was a memorable experience, but it would cost you.

Those who had the money and the time to do so could behold wonders that many Americans had not. In a sense, therefore, these witnesses were somehow more worldly (and generally, at a cost of about $.25).

Eventually, this notion gave rise to the phrase he or she has “seen the elephant,” in reference to a person who has learned something or gained experience.

“Anyone who has ever toured a prison has seen the elephant.”