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Some Common Phrases and How They Began

You’ve heard these phrases. Here’s how they began.


Clear as a bell. Before sirens and amplifiers, bells were often used as an alert to an event or an impending attack and it could be heard over a wide area. In the early 1900’s, the Sonora Chime Company used the phrase to advertise their new phonograph, calling the music it reproduced – clear as a bell.


One red cent. “I won’t pay one red cent until you finish the job.”  Before today’s Lincoln head pennies there was the Indian head penny. Made between 1859 and 1909 when the Lincoln pennies were first introduced – the early editions of the Indian head penny were made with a different alloy than the ones used today. The pennies made between 1859 and 1864 had a red tint to them and became redder with time and the effects of perspiration and other oils in the skin. Pennies back then were red.

(Rich Snyder Photography@Flickr)

A wing and a prayer began during World War I in the early days of flight. An American pilot came in with a badly damaged wing and crews on the ground were amazed he was able to land safely. He told them he was praying all the way in. Another pilot said it was “a wing and a prayer” that brought him back and it stuck.

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