The history behind strange sayings

SherrifmuirNicola here, talking about odd historical phrases and sayings. The topic came to mind this week because I was reading an article about how the UK is awash with peculiar sayings and I’m sure that other countries and other languages are exactly the same. In fact many families share special phrases that have meaning only for them. Many of these have their roots in historical events. In our family, for instance, there are several sayings with Scots origins, reflecting my husband’s Scots roots. "Save your breath to cool your porridge" is one and, “There were bigger losses at Sheriffmuir” is my all time favourite. This is trotted out frequently when things go wrong in an effort to gain a sense of perspective.

Sherrifmuir was an engagement in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. It took place on 13th November so we are almost at the anniversary of it. It was an inconclusive fight between the Jacobite army and the British government forces and in fact losses were relatively small compared with Culloden, for instance. In total there were just under 1000 men killed, wounded or captured but the bigger loss was the failure of the 1715 Jacobite rising. My mother-in-law went to school near Sherrifmuir and I wonder whether this was a local phrase. The famous poet Robert Burns, a favourite in our family, wrote a song in honour of the Battle of Sherrifmuir. “Mony a huntit, poor Red-coat / For fear amaist did swarf, man." Indeed.

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