Five MORE Surprising Origins of Common Phrases



Today, this phrase is so widely used that everybody thinks they know what it means. We’ve all heard a story about a one night stand – and maybe told one…! But a “one night stand” is actually a term for a performance that’s in town for one night only. According to, this phrase didn’t acquire its modern meaning until the 1960s.


The Kiss of Death became associated with the Mafia when a former soldier of the Genovese Family named Joseph Valachi turned on the mob. He told a story of receiving a kiss of death from his boss, meaning that his days were numbered, and decided to become an informant for the government. However, this expression goes back a little further than that. Around 2,000 years further, in fact.

In the New Testament, one of Jesus’ disciples betrayed him by identifying him to the authorities, which led to his crucifixion. The disciple was Judas Iscariot, and he identified Jesus to the Temple guards by giving him a kiss, sometimes known as the Kiss of Death.


To start from scratch means to start from the beginning, or from the very first or simplest steps. This expression comes from the starting line for races, which was often scratched into the ground. But in its earliest form, the ‘scratch’ was a line drawn on the ground in the game of cricket which marked the spot where the batter would stand. In boxing, the scratch was a line where fighters would stand and face each other. A couple hundred years after the term originated, it’s lost a lot of its more literal ties to sports and taken on a more general meaning.


You don’t want to own this bit of property. Of course to “buy the farm” means, simply, to die. But what do farms have to do with death?

There are a few theories on this one, but no matter which one you believe, it seems to be less than 100 years old. It probably originated in the US Air Force in World War Two. Pilots who talked of retirement would often dream of buying a farm back home, so when one died his friends would say that he had “bought the farm”. Another explanation uses the same idea, except that it supposedly came from a war movie from that period.

But the most widely accepted, and most likely origin is that US servicemen were issued a $10,000 life insurance policy during the Second World War, which was a big chunk of change in those days. Since most of them were too young to be married or have children, they wanted their parents to receive the insurance money. And since so many grew up as farmers, their deaths were said to have bought the family farm.


When can four letters become an expression? We all know that XOXO represents kisses and hugs, but on the surface there doesn’t seem to be a connection.

The X in XOXO represents the kiss. The best explanation that we have for this is that with the spread of Christianity, the X came to represent the cross. During the Middle Ages many people signed their names with an X because they didn’t know how to read or write, and then kissed the X to seal the deal.

It’s a little more difficult to pin down the reason that an O means a hug. Jewish immigrants to America preferred not to use a symbol of the Christian cross as a signature, so an X was out for them. Instead, they used an O. The letters O and X are possibly linked together because of the game Tic-Tac-Toe. Similar games go back all the way to Ancient Egypt, so it’s possible that Tic-Tac-Toe is their connection. In any event, the earliest known use of XOXO was in a 1960 letter to Santa Claus that was published in a Florida newspaper. After hundreds of years in the making, XOXO is now a widely used method of saying hugs and kisses – and now you know why.


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