Life in the 1500s

Susan notes: The next time you find yourself complaining about how things are, consider these interesting (albeit mostly unlikely), explanations of modern day words and expressions supposedly having their origins in aspects of life in the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, some people say brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide unpleasant body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. (Unlikely and based on shaky assumptions; other says the tradition goes back much further than the 1500s, more here)

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children, last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, 'Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.' (There may be some truth to this one; more here)

Houses had thatched roofs made of thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip off the roof. Hence the saying 'It's raining cats and dogs.'? (Debunked here; with other interesting explanations suggest)

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence. (Much more plausible and in-depth explanation here)

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying 'dirt poor.' (This source suggests the term 'dirt poor' was not used until the 20th century)

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. ?Hence the saying a 'threshold.' (Other interesting theories here)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite awhile. ?Hence the rhyme, 'Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.'? (Not true according to Wikipedia)

Sometimes they could get 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.' They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and 'chew the fat.'? (Rubbish according to this source)

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. (Maybe; more about tomotoes here)

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or 'upper crust.' (Fanciful, says this source)

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometime s knock the imbibers 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 day s and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a 'wake.'? (Almost certainly a myth, according to this page about Irish wakes)

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 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.' (Gary Martin of Phrase Finder says the term 'graveyard shift' has nothing to do with graveyards; saved by the bell comes from the boxing ring; and dead ringer has origins in horse racing)

Susan notes further: Phrase Finder Gary Martin calls Life in the 1500s (sometimes also headlined "The Bad Old Days"): "a collection of invented and untrue twaddle that has been circulating on the Internet for some time and that has done more to spread false phrase etymologies than anything else." For another commentary on the complete list, see here.