?If you study balls to the wall from now on, you just might pass this class?- said my roommate when he saw me studying for the Financial Statement Analysis course, ?Professor is a real ball breaker.? When I heard that phrase, I assumed he was referring to testicles, but in fact he wasn?t. Balls to the wall means to push to the limit, go all out, full speed. This is a very colorful phrase; one needs to be careful when using it. Although its real origin is very benign, most people assume it is a reference to testicles, just like I did. In fact the expression came from fighter planes. The "balls" are knobs atop the plane’s throttle control. Pushing the throttle all the way forward, to the wall of the cockpit, is to apply full throttle.
Some are of opinion that this phrase originated from railroad locomotives. Early railroad locomotives were powered by steam engines. Those engines typically had a mechanical governor. These governors consisted of two weighted steel balls mounted at the ends of two arms, jointed and attached to the end of a vertical shaft that was connected to the interior of the engine. The entire assembly is encased in a housing. The shafts and the weighted balls rotate at a rate driven by the engine speed. As engine speed increases, the assembly rotates at a faster speed and the force causes the weighted balls to hinge upward on the arms. At maximum engine speed – controlled by these governors ? the force causes the two weighted balls to rotate with their connecting shafts parallel to the ground and thereby nearly touching the sides – the walls – of their metal housing. So, an engineer driving his steam locomotive at full throttle was going "balls to the wall". The expression came to be used commonly to describe something going full speed. This phrase took a new meaning when I looked up its origin, and quite frankly, it turns that its not all that hip as guys make it sound.
Two weeks ago my girlfriend and I decided to drive out for an early spring picnic. On that Sunday morning, it began to rain hard. Sadly my girlfriend declared:? We are not going anywhere because it is raining cats and dogs out there and it?s your fault (the nerve!), you should have planned the trip on a different day.? After escaping with minimal damage, I wondered how can animals be associated with rain, and this is what I found. The meaning of this phrase is well-known, very hard rain, but its origins are not. In the time when bubonic plague was rampant in London, humans where apparently not the only victims of the plague. Cats and dogs were also afflicted, many died in the streets. After a particularly hard rain, street gutters could be awash in the bodies of cats and dogs. Another theory suggests that thunder and lightning represent a cat and dog fight.
Yet another traces the origin of the phrase to ideas in ancient mythology that cats could influence the weather, and that dogs were a symbol of the wind. This phrase goes back many hundreds of years to the Dark Ages. The cat was thought by sailors to have a lot to do with storms. Witches that were believed to ride in the storms were often pictured as black cats. Dogs and wolves were symbols of winds and the Norse storm god Odin was frequently shown surrounded by dogs and wolves. In the phrase "raining cats and dogs", cats symbolize the rain and dogs represent the wind of the storm.
Break a leg is a cliché, which I was curious about. It has its counterpart in the Russian language where for good luck people say ?to hell?. It seems strange that such negative and even evil wishes are believed to be a source of luck; so I did some research on that. Contrary to its common sense meaning, this phrase is a wish of good luck. Break a leg is sourced in superstition. It is a wish of good luck, but the words wish just the opposite. It was once common for people to believe in Sprites. Sprites are actually spirits or ghosts that were believed to enjoy wreaking havoc and causing trouble. If the Sprites heard you ask for something, they were reputed to try to make the opposite happen. Telling someone to "break a leg" is an attempt to outsmart the Sprites and in fact make something good, sort of a medieval reverse psychology. Of course it has became a popular wish of luck for theater performers. I could not find the origin of the Russian version, but it probably has its roots in similar superstitious believe