Ben has held a life-long interest in language and has a particular interest in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.
Space: a Source of Idioms and Sayings Explained
Idioms referencing Space and the bodies that inhabit our Universe abound, many of these sayings have come into being as a direct result of the space-age. However, some expressions seemly having their origin deep-seated in space exploration were rooted in the English language long before humanity's first tentative steps off our planet.
This article explores sayings that appear to be related to Space and the Universe around us.
Come Back Down to Earth
What goes up, must come down seems a logical assumption, so let's start our journey into the unknown here. The idiom: come back down to Earth might, at first glance, appear to be directly related to our first steps into Space, or at least to the first attempts at flight.
The phrase means that a person should regain a more realistic view or approach to something, stop doing something fun and enjoyable, and turn their attention to more urgent tasks. In other words, to concern themselves with the facts.
Similarly, you can bring someone down to Earth by forcing them to take a realistic view of something.
In reality, elements of this idiom had existed since at least the early 20th century. Back then, the expression down to Earth was said when describing something as being cheap and affordable. Nowadays, the same saying means to be practical, reasonable, and unpretentious.
Idioms With Links to the Space Age
So do idioms derived directly from the Space age exist? I believe they do, and here are a few of those with tangible links to humankind's exploration of the Universe.
It's not rocket science is said when stating that something is straightforward to do. Describes a task that not difficult to accomplish. This idiom's origin is uncertain, although it is believed to date back to the 1990s.
Houston, we have a problem is a humorous way to describe something that has gone wrong. Its origins go back to the Apollo 13 mission, which narrowly averted disaster.
All systems go is an expression usually heard during a rocket countdown. As the impending rocket take-off approaches, a final system check is required.
Space cadet is a term used to describe a person who is out of touch with reality.
Probable origin: An early use of this expression was from the title of a book published in 1948. A term also used in early radio and television serials during the early 1950s.
A modern term used to describe being distracted by something is Space Out. This idiom was first introduced early in the 1970s and is an addition to our vocabulary during the early days of space travel.
The Planets: An Idiomatic Exploration
A planet related expression that is now little heard of is (one's) Venus turns out a whelp. The phrase is from dice where the best roll is known as a "Venus," and the worst roll is called a "Canis" (dog).
Another planet-themed phrase related to good fortune is the phrase: line of Saturn, which refers to a crease on the palm of your hand, said to be an indication of how successful you will be.
When suggesting that a person is out of touch with reality, we often hear the phrase what planet are you on or are you from Mars.
The Universe is vast, with unimaginable distances between galaxies, stars, and other worlds. To be worlds apart describes a massive division of opinions, or for something to be completely different.
Apart from Earth, Saturn is arguably the most easily recognizable of all the planets in our solar system. Yet, there are barely any idioms and sayings inspired by the beauty of this planet. I have heard of one: more bling than Saturn's rings, although little used and therefore unlikely to become firmly established within our language.
Space Travel Needs Space Shuttle Idioms
Whenever I think of space travel, I instinctively make an association with the Space Shuttle. This iconic spaceship was ground-breaking and heralded a new era in the exploration of the Universe.
To shuttle around means to transport or move something around between places or events. However, the word "shuttle" was not an invention of the builders of this glorious spacecraft. The term, used as far back as 1550, meant "to move rapidly to and fro."
A more directly related version of "shuttle" was made in 1930 when discussing transport by a shuttle service.
Another idiom with a similar meaning is Shuttle diplomacy. Meaning the act of going back and forwards between two disputing parties who refuse to discuss/negotiate directly with each other.
Given the above historical use of the word shuttle, it is easy to see how it was considered an appropriate name for this unique craft.
Rockets Rise and Fall
Rise like a rocket (and fall like a stick) is an idiom that must surely be due entirely to the exploration of Space? Surprisingly not. The term can be traced back to 1792, when in no lesser a place than Britain's House of Commons, Thomas Paine described the French Revolution with the following: "As he rose like a rocket, he fell like a stick."
Shoot for the Stars
To shoot for the stars is an expression of aiming high or having high ambitions. Often said when a person is attempting to complete something challenging. We may be excused for believing that the Space Program directly influences this. However, it has more in common with celebrities and chasing fame.
To feel grateful for your good fortune is to thank one's lucky stars. The stars are seen as influencing good luck and people's character.
To gaze off into Space is an idiom that means to stare in an absentminded way at nothing in particular.