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What's the origin of...?

To Look a gift-horse in the mouth
Origin cannot be determined, but as early as the 4th century St. Jerome labeled it a common proverb.  The reference is to bad manners displayed by one when accepting a gift if he examines it for deficiencies.  (One can tell how old a horse is by looking into it's mouth.)

 

A horse of a different color
Something of a different nature from that under consideration. It was used by Shakespeare as "a horse of the same color" in the Twelfth Night.   Legend states that the phrase "a horse of another color" came from the White Horse of Berkshire, a huge carved picture in West Berkshire, almost 400 feet long - covering approximately 2 acres in commemoration of King Ethelrod and his brother Alfred the Great win over the Danes in 871, though the picture is believed to be even older.   It was the custom of neighborhood people to make it a "horse of another color" periodically by clearing out the grass and debris from the trenches by which the figure is outlined.

 

To put (or set) the cart before the horse
To get the order of things reversed. (The Greeks said "Hysteron proteron" = "the later the former". The Romans said, "Currus boveris trahit preiposter" = The plow is drawn before the ox.) The phrase first appeared in English. It is found in Dan Michael's Auenbite of Inwiht (Remorse of Conscience), a translation by Dan Michael of a French treatise, written by Laurentis Galler, in 1279, into the dialect of Kent (which actually said "many religions have set the plow before the oxen.")

 

Horsefeathers
Refers to rows of clap boards laid with their butt edge against the butt edges of shingles on clapboards so as to provide a flat surface over which asphalt or other shingles or siding may be laid.   Official term:  Feathering Studs = tapered boards laid on wood shingle roofs to provide a flat surface for asphalt shingles to be laid in reroofing [i.e., House feathers].  By about 1925 it came to be used to mean nonsense, an exclamation (!), etc.
Source: 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions, 1993, Galahad Books, NY NY ISBN -088365 845 3

 

 

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