Make Hay While the Sun Shines

HAY Breviarium_Grimani_-_Juni_detailFor many years I owned a hay field, so I can relate to this phrase. If it rains while your “hay is down” the dampness reduces the forage value and even causes mildew and mold. I was lucky to live with dry summers and modern weather forecasts and still got rained on at times.

The origin and meaning come in one neat package:

This proverb is first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.

Fall by the Wayside

To fail to be completed, particularly for lack of interest. [wiktionary] I needed to go no further than dictionary.com to find the origin of this phrase – it appeared in William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament (1526; Luke 8:5). There really is no way to be literate in English without knowing some references from the Christian Bible, though I have the impression more come from the King James version.

Sold a Bill of Goods – Not Good at All

The phrase means to be cheated, though I didn’t understand why – “goods” is a general term for merchandise so surely buying goods is, well, good. And a bill of goods must be some sort of receipt – which also sounds good.

Word Detective says

“Bill of goods” was used in the non-pejorative “list of stuff” sense for many years until the 1920s, when it suddenly took on a negative spin… (“Selling a big bill of goods hereabouts, I’ll wager, you old rascals?” Eugene O’Neill, Marco Millions, 1927). “Bill of goods” very quickly almost entirely lost its simple, honest mercantile sense and became a synonym for “scam.” Just how this transformation happened is something of a mystery.

The site speculates that the phrase means the list was given to the purchaser but the goods never delivered. I’ll add my own observation that the switch to meaning a swindle occurred during America’s Prohibition era which makes me think of rum-running and accompanying swindles. I assume the phrase must have been known before O’Neill used it in a book.

A wordoriginsorg forum agrees with the O’Neill citation and includes several uses of “bill of goods” as a simple listing rather than a swindle before the 1920s, including by Mark Twain  in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1889.

On the Same Page

Round_Table_Discussion.svg.medTo be on the same page is to be thinking or understanding an issue similarly, or in agreement, though not necessarily on every detail. It is usually said about efforts to solve a problem.

Knowyourphrase.com says the origin is may refer to students opening their textbooks to the same page, or choral singers opening their music. That sounds plausible but sometimes people simply make up good stories to explain a phrase.

If the phrase seems to be recent, so Know Your Phrase may have found the origin in 1974, in the Corona Daily Independent:

“I think we can beat Washington and whichever [football] team we play next to get into the Super Bowl. If 47 players and our coaches are all on the same page, we can do it.”

Wherever it came from, tweakyourbiz.com calls this a business cliché, “a handy crutch when you’re groping for a word in a pressurized situation.” Perhaps some original thinking would lead to fresh language.

Preaching to the Choir – a much safer audience

This phrase refers to attempts to convert someone who is already a believer – that is, a waste of time. According to Phrase Finder, this is a fairly recent phrasing, originating in the United States, based on an older version.

The first reference is from The Lima News, Ohio, January 1973:
“He said he felt like the minister who was preaching to the choir. That is, to the people who always come to church, but not the ones who need it most.”

An earlier English version dates back around a century further and is first cited in a letter to The Times in November 1857:
It is an old saying that to preach to the converted is a useless office, and I may add that to preach to the unconvertible is a thankless office.

It was subsequently made popular by John Stuart Mill.

Read the Riot Act

The Phrase Finder explains that the this expression means to “Reprimand rowdy characters and warn them to stop behaving badly.” It had its origin in the actual English Riot Act of 1715. Any group of twelve or more unruly citizens had an hour to disperse or be arrested after the Riot Act was read to them. The English government was especially fearful of Jacobite mobs who wanted to overthrow the King and restore Roman Catholic Stuart King James VII of Scotland to the throne.