Posts Tagged ‘Duke of Wellington’


Tattle-Tale, tattle-tale!!! And I thought this might have something to do with a rattle snake’s tail…and no clue as to why?

Actually the origin of this name-calling phrase has its roots in a combination of a Middle English word derived from Old Dutch, tatelen, which meant meaningless  prattle or stammering and was used in reference to children and an old English expression tell-tale, which was used the way we use tattle-tale.

There’s an old nursery rhyme: “Tell-tale-tit, your tongue will be slit, and all the dogs within the town shall have a little bit”.  As time went on, tatelen became tattlin which was thought of as tattling and soon morphed from meaningless prattle to idle gossip to telling tales to tattle-tale. The manner in which this phrase came into being through the morphing and blurring of words is the way many of our everyday phrases worked their way into our language.


I think I’ll be waiting till the cows come home for my son to call me!!  Surely your mother said this to you at one time or another in your life.  The phrase refers to the nature of cows, notoriously languid creatures who move only at their own pace.  The imagery is perfect, as you imagine the cows just ambling along slowly and taking a long time to get there.

It is believed that the phrase was in use prior to 1829 and may have originated in Scotland – it appeared in print in The Times in January of that year in reference to the Duke of Wellington and what he should do if he wished to maintain a place in Peel’s cabinet:

Till the cows come home,

The Duke of Wellington

If the Duke will but do what he unquestionably can do, and propose a Catholic Bill with securities, he may be Minister, as they say in Scotland “until the cows come home.”

In 1933, one of our great comedians known for his witty use and play on words, Groucho Marx, had this to say in the film, Duck Soup:

“I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.”

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