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Money burns a hole in your pocket, etc.

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 24, 2008 at 17:07:

In Reply to: Money burns a hole in your pocket, etc. posted by Marie Sumnicht on April 24, 2008 at 10:59:

: I'm trying to find the origins of "Money burns a hole in your pocket", "his bark is worse than his bite" and "rule the roost".

Although you can find help with the meanings of these expressions, they have been in common use for so long that I doubt you could ever find out who said it first, or under what circumstances. Hence, I can only take a run at the meanings.

(a.) "It was only a bit of change, but it was plainly burning a hole in his pocket." As though it were something hot, he wanted to pull the money out--and get rid of it by spending it. This can be used of almost anything that a new owner wants to use or spend right away. In the 18th century it was sometimes expressed as "burning in one's pocket" or something similar. Two examples cited by the OED are "1740 MRS. DELANY Autobiog. & Corr. II. 165 The post brought me your letter, which burnt in my pocket. 1768 TUCKER Lt. Nat. I. 152 Children..cannot rest till they get rid of their money, or, as we say, it burns in their pockets."

The more modern version appeared at least as early as the 19th century: "1857 TROLLOPE Three Clerks II. ix. 198 How was she to give him the purse? It was burning a hole in her pocket till she could do so." (Example quoted in the OED, s.v. burn.)
(b.) "His bark is worse than his bite." This is said literally of some dogs, meaning that their bark may be scary (as intended), but they probably won't bite. The figurative meaning is pretty clear: his angry threats are more fearsome than his actual performance. The OED cites versions of it from the 17th century on. "1663 Lauderd. Papers I. 131 intended that that letter shall be a great bark if not a byt. 1816 SCOTT Antiq. II. vii. 186 'Monkbarns's bark,' said Miss Griselda Oldbuck..'is muckle waur than his bite.' 1842 DE QUINCEY Cicero Wks. VI. 184 The bark of electioneering mobs is worse than their bite. . . ."
(c.) "Rule the roost" started out as "rule the roast," although why is not known. The OED remarks, s.v. roast, "to rule the roast, to have full sway or authority; to be master. Hence ruler of the roast.
In very common use from c 1530 onwards, but none of the early examples throw any light on the precise origin of the expression."

Since the image of a cock lording it over his hens in their roost comes to mind so easily, roost has very largely replaced roast in the vernacular. See what Henry Fowler has to say, as quoted by the OED (s.v. roost): "1926 FOWLER Mod. Eng. Usage 509/1 Rule the roast (roost). The OED gives no countenance to roost, it does not even recognize that the phrase ever takes that form; but most unliterary persons say roost & not roast; I have just inquired of three such, & have been informed that they never heard of rule the roast, & that the reference is to a cock keeping his hens in order."