It struck me the other day just how bizarre the English language can be. My sister and I were having a passionate discussion (not about anything important, most likely to do with food) when I said to her the following, ‘please stop, you’re really getting my goat.’ Hang on. What? Getting my goat? I’ve used that phrase, and many others like it for as long as I can remember. Not once haveIi sat and truly thought about what they originally meant, and where they derived from. Just why does getting on another person’s goat mean you’re annoying or upsetting them?
Well, I took it upon myself to find out. And whilst doing that, researched the origins of some other popular British phrases too! I thought that it might be fun to make this into an ongoing series, similar to our hidden treasures blog posts. Let me know in the comments, or over on our Facebook page @bookishlyuk, if you’d like to read more of these!
Get Someone’s Goat
There are many theories as to where this phrase first originated from, though the following, despite having no hard evidence, is by far the most popular. To get someone’s goat essentially means to annoy, anger, or unsettle. Many believe that goats were kept in the same pens as race horses because they had a calming influence on them. If a person wanted a race horse to perform badly, they would steal the goat out of their pens, they would (quite literally) get the horse’s goat, thus unsettling them.
Flamin’ Nora / Bloody Nora
This is an exclamation with a similar sentiment to ‘flipping heck’ or other, slightly stronger, variations of that phrase. People believe that ‘flamin’ nora’ was originally said as flaming horror - a cry of dismay. It was common for old Cockney English to drop both the g and the h, and thus horror became ‘orror and when merged with flamin’ became ‘flamin’ nora.’ Interesting!
Bob’s Your Uncle!
Who’s Bob?! Why is he our uncle?! This phrase means ‘there you have it’ or ‘simple’. It is believed to have originated from when British Prime Minister was Robert Gascoyne Cecil in 1887. He made his nephew Arthur James Balfour Minister of Ireland. In a speech, Arthur referred to the Prime Minister as Uncle Bob. It was suggested and mocked by many that it was easy to become Minister if Bob’s your uncle!
There you have it! Have you heard any different theories to how these phrases first came about? I’d love to hear about them!