In the days of authors like William Shakespeare, when the meaning of words carried more poetic connotations, the term breast referred to one s heart or emotions. Simply put, to make a clean breast of things was to open up to another person and make known your inner-most feelings, thus giving one a clean slate--no secrets.

Centuries ago, when just about every farmer kept some sort of livestock both for sale and for their own sustenance, they identified ownership of each animal through one of two methods: branding or ear clipping. It's in the latter term that this phrase finds its origin.

Particularly for military units of the 19th century, a regiment s flag (or colors) was a symbol of pride and a sacred object to those who fought under it. Losing the flag to your enemy was a sign of defeat, but if you came off the battlefield with your colors still flying, you more than likely scored a victory.

In field events like the high jump and pole vaulting, an athlete s objective is to clear an elevated, horizontal bar without touching it. The higher the officials raise the bar, the more challenging the event becomes. The popular usage of the phrase raise the bar borrows from this idea of meeting a greater challenge and possibly setting a new standard in the process.

When Milton Bradley introduced the board game Chutes and Ladders to Americans in 1943, it was an instant classic. Based on a game played in ancient India, the version that most of us know today uses a game board on which is printed a checkered pattern of squares numbered one through 99. Throughout this pattern runs a series of winding chutes and ladders.

When the Catholic Church considers a person for sainthood, the first order of business is determining whether there is sufficient evidence to support the bestowal of this high honor (i.e. establishing whether the candidate is responsible for a miraculous event, such as a terminally ill cancer patient suddenly free of the disease).

While there s no question that this phrase refers to a person's death, the origins are less clear. Most believe that it started as military slang but with reference to different things. Some think that it indicated what many families would purchase with the deceased soldier's death benefits.

For centuries, people have associated the color green with the still new and unripe. Apples and berries, for instance, first appear green before they turn red. A derivative of this understanding, the term greenhorn goes back to the 1400s, originally used as a reference to the new horns on young oxen.

Look at most any contemporary illustration of 19th-century high-society women and you ll find the subjects wearing gloves. Because gloves were such popular fashion accessories, it was important that they be elegant and comfortable, which is why kid gloves were big sellers throughout much of the 1800s.

In the days before Jeeps and tanks, military forces depended greatly on horses, not only for their cavalry units but for the commanding officers who needed to move quickly about the ranks giving orders. Particularly in the middle ages, many of these commanding officers were nobles, and their mounts, very expensive riding horses that were taller and stronger than most others.

Pushing the envelope actually comes from a mathematical concept known as the flight envelope, which involves combinations of speed, altitude, stress, and range--all important factors in determining an aircraft s capabilities. When test pilots push the envelope, they are taking the aircraft up to and, perhaps even, beyond its limits.

Quite simply, the phrase below the belt started out as a formal rule in early pugilism (around the mid 18th century). The British boxer Jack Broughton drafted a list of rules that, together, made it clear that no fighter should strike his opponent anywhere below the waist. In time, these provisions fell under the descriptor below the belt.