Original picture: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Original picture: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Some of the more bizarre idioms in the English language appear to have completely inexplicable origins.

Thankfully, linguistics professors exist to explain things.

Franz Andres Morrissey, a lecturer in linguistics and creative writing at the University of Bern, and Jürg Strässler, emeritus lecturer in linguistics at the University of Zurich, spent a month examining some of the strangest phrases in the English language.

The list, commissioned by Privilege insurance, was developed by dividing British sayings according to their origins and assessing them for how baffling they are to a foreign speaker of the language.

Of the top thirty most frequently (and confusingly) used, a sixth of the entries come from military origins, while 13 per cent come from cockney rhyming slang.

Both of the literary phrases included in the list are Shakespearean.

Morrissey said:

Everyday English is incredibly rich in imaginative language. Looking for the meanings of the many colourful, puzzling and at times downright surreal sayings takes us on a journey through history and sports, military and nautical realms, literature and culture and beyond.

Finding out about these origins says more than a little about the collective minds of English speakers. It shows a fascination with history, with in some cases quite graphic metaphor and, of course, with language play.

Take a look at the meanings and origins of the most obscure phrases in the English language and vote in our ranked list, below:

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