I recently had the occasion to reflect on a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, VA. Such a fascinating place where history comes alive. The Governor’s mansion regally watches over the colonial village, the gaol, the tavern and the Inn.

No internet, no cells phones, no TV, no radios, no cars, no nothing as we would describe it today. Yet the hallways and streets still echo with the words of the titans of our past. And their words help form our words. We in the Training, Coaching and Organizational Development profession take careful note of “words” and their meaning and their power.

Understanding the true meaning of what is being communicated was as important then as it is today. Here are some of the words and phrases from that space in time that we use without a “second thought.”

Old Colonial Sayings We Use Today:

Sleep tight – Before box springs were in use, old bed frames used rope pulled tightly between the frame rails to support a mattress. If the rope became loose, the mattress would sag making for uncomfortable sleeping. Tightening the ropes would help one get a good night sleep.

Getting your goat – This refers to an old English belief that keeping a goat in the barn would have a calming effect on the cows, hence producing more milk. When one wanted to antagonize/terrorize one’s enemy, you would abscond with their goat rendering their milk cows less- to non-productive.

Pull out all the stops – This phrase comes from the pipe organs in churches and classical music. Each pipe has a “stop” that acts as a baffle that controls the amount of airflow. The volume of the organ can be adjusted by adding or removing the stops. By pulling out all the stops, all pipes are playing at their loudest.

Get off your high horse – Military leaders, nobility etc. led parades on horseback, as a sign of their superiority and to increase their prominence. Thus to “get off your high horse” means you should lower the view of your own status and stop behaving arrogantly.

You have a screw loose –  As machines began to be used in the 1700’s, screws frequently loosened causing the machine to break down. If you are having a malfunction, you may have a screw loose as well.

Dressed to the nines – He looks like he purchased the best such as purchasing the best suit using nine yards of cloth to make it.

Take it with a grain of salt – Salt was thought to have healing properties and to be an antidote to poisons.

Let the cat out of the bagA dishonest farmer, claiming to be selling a young pig, might substitute a cat or some other valueless animal in a tied bag.

Cold shoulderWhen guests would over stay their welcome as house guests, the hosts would (instead of feeding them good, warm meals) serve their too-long staying guests the cold meat, thereby giving them the COLD SHOULDER.

So, “if you have to pull out all the stops, because somebody dressed to the nines with a screw loose doesn’t let the cat out of the bag, take everything with a grain of salt, sleep tight and don’t let anybody on their high horse give you the cold shoulder or get your goat” …