September 13, 2013

Colder Than A Witch's Tit & Other Sayings

It's time for more word fun!

I love a good saying, one that you use all the time and really don't know why. Recently, I did a post on just those type of sayings: Bat Out of Hell and Other Phrases.

Then I saw the lovely Julie Glover's post this week on Summer Sayings, and I felt inspired to do round 2.

Mind Your Ps and Qs

I say this to my kids all the time, to suggest to them to follow the rules. Researching this was fun, because there were several theories on the origin of this saying.

As a mom, I was most drawn to the theory that it is simply referring to kids distinguishing between writing a p and a q (mirror images of each other, just like b and d). But the one I've heard most often is mind your pints and quarts--a reference to bartenders, supposedly in British pubs, watching how they fill the customers' drinks. (source)

Public Domain
Colder Than A Witch's Tit/Teat

This saying as an expression of brutal cold has always given me pause. Why a witch? Then I found this intriguing explanation, so interesting that I didn't even want to summarize. From The Phrase Finder:

The simple explanation is that "colder than a witch's tit" is just a vivid metaphor, like "hotter than the hinges of hell." Since a witch is in league with Satan, presumably she has no maternal feelings. Thus the medium by which she would suckle a child is,
well, cold as a witch's tit.


But there's some history behind this wisecrack. A witch's tit (or witch's teat, to use the older spelling) supposedly left a marking that witch hunters and courts would look for on the body of an accused person. Supposedly, witches would suckle their familiars, and sometimes the Devil himself, from this "unholy" body part. To find these marks, as well as insensitive spots on the skin called devil's marks--caused by the Devil's claws or teeth--the suspects were stripped, shaven, then closely examined for any blemishes, moles, or even scars that could be labeled as diabolical. To find marks invisible to the eye, the examiner would poke the victim inch by inch with a blunt needle (called a bodkin) until they found a spot that didn't feel pain or bled. Discovery of these marks or spots--one supposes they would be considered cold since they were a sign of communion with the Devil--would be "proof" of the person's dealings with Scratch, so they would be shown in full court before the execution.

Am I the only one who wants to write a book titled Witch's Tit right now?

And I always like to end these posts with one of my dad's sayings since he is the reason I am so infatuated with the language (and he's full of them). Whenever Dad thought you'd stepped over the line from arguing to intruding, he'd say, "Now you've gone from preaching to meddlin'."

3 comments:

krystal jane said...

Funny quote from your dad. Lol!

The witch tests were just crazy. Thanks for that explanation. I never got it, but a light bulb totally went off when I read that quote! That's always a fun feeling. Lol!

I always got a kick out of the p's and q's saying. :)

Jo Michaels said...

Madder than a mashed cat. That's one of my favorites :) LOL! Your dad is a character, for sure.
*raises hand* I do!
BTW, I had a thought I'm gonna run by you at the meeting Monday. We'll let the other members drop and have us a gab session :)
Great post, Tia! WRITE ON!

julieglover.com said...

I have always wondered where that phrase "colder than..." came from, but that explanation is just creepy. I imagined how awful it would be to stand there, stripped, as someone poked your sensitive areas and checked your moles. Ick!

Glad to know there are other language nuts out there! :)