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Did you know doctors had a role in shaping the idiom, "bite the bullet"? Image Credit: Pexels/Karolina Grabowska

Were the milliners in the phrase “mad as a hatter” truly mad, and did people actually put bullets in their mouths when they had to “bite the bullet”?

Click start to play today’s Crossword, where you can fill in the blank for an idiom in 5-Across.

We use expressions and idioms so often, we don’t really think about their origins. Here are five phrases with interesting histories, which give you an insight into how they came into use:

1. Bite the bullet

Definition: To accept something difficult or unpleasant

Origin: The first recorded use of the idiom was in 1891, in The Light that Failed, the first novel by the Nobel Prize-winning English author Rudyard Kipling. During that time, when doctors didn’t have anaesthesia at hand or couldn’t access it when treating soldiers in the battlefield, they would ask the patient to bite down on a bullet to distract them from the pain.

2. Break the ice

Definition: To end a conflict or start an acquaintance/friendship

Origin: In an age when road transportation had not been developed, ships were the primary means of trade. But often, the large vessels would get stuck in foreign waters during winter, due to ice formation. The receiving country would then send smaller ships to literally break up the ice and clear a path for trade ships. This gesture was an offer of friendship and understanding between two territories.

3. Mad as a hatter

Definition: To act very silly or be prone to unpredictable behaviour

Origin: Contrary to popular belief, this phrase didn’t originate from the Mad Hatter character developed by English writer Lewis Carroll for his children’s book, Alice in Wonderland. The idiom actually goes back to 17th century France, where hat makers experienced symptoms from poisoning that occurred when they used mercury in making the felt for hats. The ‘mad hatter disease’ created extreme antisocial behaviour, irritability and tremors, making the person appear to be mentally unstable.

4. Cat got your tongue?

Definition: Asked to a person who is at a loss for words

Origin: In the 17th century, the British Army used a type of multi-tailed whip called the cat o’ nine tails, to flog offenders. The pain was so severe that it caused victims to stay quiet for a long time after the punishment. Another possible source of origin could be from ancient Egypt, where liars’ tongues were cut out and fed to the cats.

5. Turn a blind eye

Definition: To ignore situations, facts or reality

Origin: This phrase goes back to the 18th century and a British naval hero named Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was blind in one eye. In one incident, when British forces signaled for him to stop attacking a fleet of Danish ships, he held up a telescope to his blind eye and is supposed to have said: “I do not see the signal”. He continued his attack, and emerged victorious.

Did you know about the history behind these idioms? Play today’s Crossword and tell us at games@gulfnews.com.