history Common Sayings That Have Been Used Forever  

Duke Harten
218 votes 57 voters 7.2k views 16 items Follow Embed

List Rules All of the sayings on this list have been around for 50+ years. Vote up the origin stories you were most surprised to learn.

Some phrases are so commonplace, it might never occur to you that they're actually old expressions that have stuck with us through the ages. Below, learn the origin of common sayings and keep them up your sleeve - the next time someone invites you to paint the town red, you'll be happy as a clam to know why that means what it does. These old sayings we still use have more history than you might think.

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Run Amok


Run Amok is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Common Sayings That Have Been Used Forever
Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

Meaning: To exhibit wild or erratic behavior

Origin: Captain James Cook recorded a peculiar mental phenomenon among the Amock tribe - otherwise normal Malaysian tribesmen who were liable to go on random and seemingly senseless killing rampages. Thus, to run amok. 

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Diehard


Diehard is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Common Sayings That Have Been Used Forever
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Meaning: A person with a strong dedication to a specific set of beliefs

Origin: No, it didn't start with John McClane. Originally, the phrase simply referred to men who struggled inordinately long while hanging. But a British officer popularized the phrase even further during the Napoleonic Wars's 1811 Battle of Albuera. Officer William Inglis cried to his regiment to, "Stand your ground and die hard, make the enemy pay dear for each of us!" The regiment - which lost more than three-fourths of its men - earned the nickname "The Die Hards" after that.

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Turn a Blind Eye


Turn a Blind Eye is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Common Sayings That Have Been Used Forever
Photo: Walt Disney Studios

Meaning: To deliberately ignore an obvious reality

Origin: During the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen, British naval officer Horatio Nelson’s ships went up against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet. The one-eyed Nelson is purported to have ignored a superior officer's order to retreat by bringing his spyglass to his bad eye and saying, “I really do not see the signal.” Nelson and his men went on to rout their foes in battle. Some historians are skeptical of the story's veracity, but the phrase continues to be used today.

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Paint the Town Red


Paint the Town Red is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Common Sayings That Have Been Used Forever
Photo: Universal Pictures

Meaning: To have a wild night (often involving alcohol) on the town

Origin: There are several theories about where this phrase came from. The most popular? In 1837, the Marquis of Waterford and his friends spent a night carousing around the English town of Melton Mowbray. Among other acts of vandalism and debauchery, the crew actually painted a tollgate, a statue, and several doors red. Another theory says that in the Wild West, men in brothels behaved as if the whole town was a red-light district.