7 Everyday Phrases That Have Been Rephrased

EasternLightcraft/iStock via Getty Images
EasternLightcraft/iStock via Getty Images

It’s by no means rare for words to rework and reshape themselves over time, to the extent that they can end up with vastly different meanings and spellings compared to their original forms. So awful once meant the same as wonderful. A bully was originally a friend or a close companion. Jargon was once upon a time another word for the chattering of birds. And while adders and umpires were originally nadders and numpires, nicknames were eke-names. When changes like these happen to entire sayings and expressions, however, the differences between the original form and the form that eventually catches on can be even more surprising.

1. Cloud Nine

People who are extremely happy have been “on cloud nine” since the mid-1900s, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it wasn’t originally cloud nine that was the seat of all contentment, but “cloud seven.” The phrase itself probably began life as a spin off from the much earlier phrase seventh heaven (which dates back to the 14th century), but records have also been unearthed that mention everywhere from cloud eight to cloud 31. Why is it only cloud nine that’s survived today? No one really knows.

2. An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

The old adage that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” was originally a full-blown proverb: the Oxford English Dictionary has traced “eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread” back as far as 1866, but it was probably in use locally long before then. By the later 19th century, this had shortened to “an apple a day, no doctor to pay,” before the snappier version we know and use today emerged in the 1910s.

3. Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride

We know the phrase “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” thanks to a 1925 advertisement for Listerine mouthwash. It wasn’t always as pessimistic as it is today, however: The original phrasing was “often a bridesmaid” rather than “always.” There’s hope for everyone, it seems, so long as your breath doesn’t smell.

4. Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law

Possession hasn’t always been proverbially “nine-tenths of the law”—back in the 17th century, the phrase “11 points of the law” was just as common. No one is entirely sure what these “11 points” or “nine-tenths” initially were, but given what the phrase implies it’s presumed that it might once have been necessary to meet a certain number of criteria in order to legally prove your ownership of some disputed property, and it’s these criteria that were the original “11 points” involved.

5. Shoot Your Cuffs

If you “shoot your cuffs,” then you pull your shirt sleeves down so that they can be seen sticking out of your coat or jacket sleeves, although the phrase can also be used figuratively to mean “to smarten yourself up.” It dates back to the mid-19th century, when the original wording was “shoot your linen”; the more specific mention of “cuffs” emerged in the early 1900s.

6. Don’t Lose the Ship (for a Halfpennyworth of Tar)

Or, as you might also know it, “don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.” In either case, back in the 17th century the original phrasing was "lose the sheep" not the "ship," which is presumed to refer to the use of tar either to mark ownership of the sheep in a flock, or to cover up sores on the skin of livestock to stop them from being bothered by flies. But because ship and sheep sound so similar (and because tar can also be used to seal the timbers in leaking ships), the two forms quickly became confused and today the “ship” form has become the standard.

7. Gild the Lily

Along with being “in a pickle,” a “foregone conclusion,” and “what the dickens,” we owe the expression to "gild the lily" to William Shakespeare, who coined it in King John in 1595. You won’t find the form we use today in Shakespeare’s original speech, however:

Therefore, to be possessed with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

King John (Act 4, Scene 2)

Included in a list of metaphorically unnecessary acts, the original phrase was “paint the lily,” while it was the “refined gold” that was being needlessly gilt (i.e. coated in gold). When this quotation became proverbial in the early 20th century, Shakespeare’s original wording remained intact (the OED has found a reference to “painting the lily” as recently in 1968 in the Encyclopedia Britannica), but soon the conflated form “gild the lily” became the standard and has remained in use every since.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Seniors in a North Carolina Assisted Living Facility Are Looking for Pen Pals

Seniors in nursing homes are hoping to develop new friendships with pen pals.
Seniors in nursing homes are hoping to develop new friendships with pen pals.
MichaelShivers/iStock via Getty Images

Although coronavirus still holds many mysteries for the researchers working to understand it, one thing is certain: Older populations, particularly those in group living facilities, are at high risk of serious complications. Assisted living facilities around the country have largely shied away from allowing visitors, which means residents have little contact with anyone beyond staff.

Victorian Senior Care in North Carolina is looking to change that the old-fashioned way. They’re soliciting pen pals for their residents.

The facility, which has several locations throughout the state, has set up a program for residents looking to correspond with someone. Each person has a photo profile listing their name and interests. Enjoy video games? Then you might like exchanging letters with Robert at The Living Center of Concord. Know about farming and heavy farm equipment? Mr. Tom at The Village of Kingston is your man. Don’t mind an old rascal? Check out Leon at Montgomery Village, who likes “shag dancing” and “loves girls.”

You can find dozens more seniors who have a lot of life experience to share on the Victorian Care Center’s pen pal page. The program is already a success, with over 15,000 letters received to date. One location is even at letter capacity, as all the seniors looking for a new friend at their Phoenix Assisted Care location have a full dance card.

Other care facilities throughout the country are also hoping to match residents with pen pals. Ridgecrest Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Forney, Texas, has resident profiles on their Facebook page:

None of these facilities are offering email addresses, which means you’ll have to correspond like pen pals did for centuries—with pen and paper.

[h/t Victorian Senior Care]