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It’s been quite awhile since I’ve tackled some of the idiosyncratic idioms Americans use on a daily basis. English is my first language, and I’m bemused on a regular basis by many of these expressions. If you think about the actual words, and not the implied meaning, you can’t help but ask, “For real?”

Put your best foot forward ~ make a good impression

I always wondered WHY one foot would be better than the other? As if you’d have a clown shoe on one foot and a fancy dress shoe on the other.

But I digress…

Today this phrase is often used with regards to making a good impression when meeting someone for the first time, such as a job interview or a social gathering. It also can also mean putting your best efforts into taking on a new task.

Like this little gosling…baby gosling

There is some argument over when this phrase originated. Some claim “Always put your best foot forward” dates back to 1495. Others insist the phrase was first recorded in 1613 in a poem by Sir Thomas Overbury.

However, what most people do agree upon is the misuse of “best” when comparing only two items. “Best” assumes there are three or more items. The correct usage is “better”, as in Shakespeare’s King John (1585): “Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not arguing with Shakespeare.

Head over heels ~ excited, madly in love

Today this phrase is typically used to describe someone who’s madly in love, as in “head over heels in love.” But…for real? Where do you usually find your head?

This phrase actually originated in the 14th century as ‘heels over head’, meaning doing cartwheels or somersaults.

The first recorded use of “head over heels” appeared in 1771 in Herbert Lawrence’s Contemplative Man.

However, the first recorded reference to love didn’t appear until June 1833 in an Indiana newspaper, The Lebanon Patriot:

About ten years ago Lotta fell head over heels in love with a young Philadelphian of excellent family.

Puppy love

Like nobody’s business ~ to an extraordinary degree

This is another phrase that—if you think about it too much—makes no sense whatsoever. No surprise…the origin of “like nobody’s business” is as elusive the literal meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims that P.G. Wodehouse first used the phrase in 1938: “The fount of memory spouting like nobody’s business.” It’s speculated that “like nobody’s business” was a popular phrase in the 1920’s and 30’s, used as a replacement for something more shocking. The light-hearted, carefree spirit of the times embraced humor and originality of other phrases, such as “the cat’s pajamas” and “the bee’s knees”.

If someone says you’re doing something “like nobody’s business”, it’s most likely a compliment to your energetic enthusiasm. Like these old-movie stars cutting the rug (dancing) like nobody’s business!