This is interesting; some of them seem liklier to me than others, but that probably isn't much of a guide to their accurary.
I'm reminded of a hilarious essay by Woody Allen -- I think it was in Without Feathers, but I'm not sure -- in which he offers a series of explanations for the origins of words and phrases that are presented straight, and have a certain plausible ring, but somehow emerge as absurdly funny. Wish I had a couple of examples, but none come to mind. Anyone recall the bit I'm talking about, or where it appears?
In a message dated 4/18/2003 10:16:16 AM Eastern Standard Time, Marcia Karp <[log in to unmask]> writes:
> Peter Montgomery wrote, in part:
>> A student sent me the piece below. It's not
>> documented but it has a ring of truth about it.
>> Not so boring history!
>> Here are some facts about the 1500s:
>> Houses had thatched roofs - thick straw-piled high, with no
>> woodunderneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all
>> the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof.
>> When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would
>> slip and fall off the roof - hence the saying: "It's raining cats and
>> The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter
>> when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep
>> their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh
>> until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A
>> piece of wood was placed in the entranceway - hence: a "thresh hold."
>> 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 a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon".
>> Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. 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 a nd see if they
>> would wake up - hence the custom of holding a "wake." England is old
>> and small and the local folks started 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, 1 out
>> of 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 a 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 the graveyard all night ("the graveyard shift") to
>> listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was
>> considered a "dead ringer."
>> And that's the truth... (and whoever said that History was
>> boring)! ! ?
> What ring of truth? It sounds like a hundred other emails that
>people forward, favoring simple-minded ease to the boring truth.
> Nothing wrong with enjoying jokes, but why not call them that?
> While you are loth to do any of the work of verification, others
>might be interested. "Raining cats and dogs" derives from myths of the
>animals' influence on and symbolism of various weathers. The thresh is
>to tread or trample; the OED is unsure of the hold . Brewer's thinks
>bringing home the bacon ("to bring back the prize; to succeed") might be
>a reference to the Dunmow flitch. I know you'll want to research that
>so you can educate your student. A wake uses the sense of watch or
>vigil. A bone house is "a charnel-house; a coffin; the human body."
>Dead ringer is an American usage, first citation 1891. And it doesn't
>have anything to do with death or bells.