phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

English from the 1500's?

Posted by Jonny utah on March 30, 2001

I received this in an email. I am uncertain if it is true, but some of it sounds reasonable...

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water
temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to
be...Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in
May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to
smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house
had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the sons and men, then
the women and finally the children -- last of all the babies. By then the
water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it--hence the saying,
"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs -- thick straw, piled high, with no wood
underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the
dogs, cats and other small animals (mice rats, and bugs) lived in the roof.
When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and
off the roof--hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed
a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really
mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and sheet hung
the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence
the saying, "dirt poor."

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when
wet, so they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the
winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until when you opened the door
would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the
entryway--hence, a "thresh hold."

They cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the
fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate
vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner,
leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over
the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for
quite a while--hence the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold,
peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special.
When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was
sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon." They would cut off
little to share with guests and would all sit around an "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content
caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning
and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400
or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. Most people did not have pewter
plates, but had trenchers, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out
like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale paysan bread, which was
and hard that they could use them for quite some time. Trenchers were never
washed and a lot of times worms and mold got into the wood and old bread.
After eating off wormy moldy trenchers, one would get, "trench mouth."

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of
the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would
sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the
road would
take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the
kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and
eat and drink and wait and see if they would wakeup-hence the custom of
holding a "wake."

England is old and small and they started out running out of places to
bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a
"bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out
of every 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they
realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie
string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up
through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in
graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus,
someone could be "saved by the bell."