‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.’ Have you ever wondered who comes up with such expressions or idioms? I often do.
Keeping matters pet friendly (aha aha) and water related (because that’s what we’re about – us here at AquAid, dont’chya know) you’ll find quite a few animal / watery idioms around. My task was to establish whether they are all true or where they originated from.
The horse/water idiom might possibly encapsulate the English-speaking people’s mind-set better than any other saying, as it appears to be the oldest English proverb that is still in regular use today. It was recorded as early as 1175 in Old English Homilies:
Hwa is thet mei thet hors wettrien the him self nule drinken
[who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?]
What’s even more interesting is that this particular proverb or idiom also applies to dogs. Dogs, you ask? Yes, dogs, I reply. It wasn’t until recently that I found out that dogs don’t sweat. They can pant or drink water to cool themselves down but they can’t do both at the same time and even if they’re too hot and you offer them water, they often won’t drink it – ergo you can also lead dogs to water but you can’t make them drink. I haven’t tried this out with cats, but then, they’re cats. Rather don’t go there.
I’m aware that this expression has another meaning, actually pointing at human behaviour, but I quite enjoy the literal sense too.
A fish out of water – Not feeling at home where you are. Okay, that one’s easy.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – When you’re making a change, save what matters to you and dispose of the rest. Pretty self-explanatory, but were you aware that there’s a bit of bun fight about the literal meaning of this idiom? Apparently, there’s an e-mail doing the rounds about proverbs in the 1500’s and this one meant that as an entire household bathed in the same water, the water would get so murky that it was entirely possible the baby went out with the bathwater. Not true of course.
To drown in a glass of water – To be easily discouraged. I honestly hadn’t heard of this one before. I will suggest though that you don’t take this literally when refilling your glass at the water cooler. Your co-workers may get the wrong idea and label you a bit of a twit.
Blood is thicker than water – Family is more important than anyone or anything else. This idiom has always creeped me out slightly. Still not sure why. Perhaps it comes from watching too many vampire movies?
To pound water in a mortar – Making vain attempts. This I can identify with, except mine involved making a well in flour and pouring water in to make pizza bases. The dam broke, the water flowed out and I was left cleaning up sticky, yeasty, wet flour from every available kitchen surface. Thank you, recipe from Jamie Oliver, not.