Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Idioms beginning with leave

Idioms beginning with leave

Idioms allow us to communicate clearly even while using words that have nothing to do with our meaning. My American Idioms Dictionary, for instance, lists twenty-one idioms beginning with the word leave, covering the better part of two pages. Oddly, most idioms’ origins are shaded in mystery. Three of the six idioms below are legitimate. Three are manufactured. See if you can determine the faux origins (answers are in the comments section).

Leave no stone unturned (1700s) Based on the behavior of a North American bird, the ruddy turnstone, which is surprisingly diligent in its efforts to turn over stones to find food.

Leave someone high & dry (1700s) When a ship was run aground or caught on land due to a dropping tide, it was left high and dry.

Leave well enough alone (1400s) The old Scottish game Twibbits involved flipping discs, the goal being to place one’s disc as far from others’ discs as possible, yet near the goal. The winner was said to be left alone, but if two throws tied, the round was judged well enough alone, a term equal to our modern good enough.

Leave someone holding the bag (1700s) This idiom comes from a hazing game much like a snipe hunt, in which a gullible individual is sent up into the hills with a bag while his/her tormenters claim they’ll drive the elusive snipe out of the bushes & into the bag, but instead, have a good laugh at the expense of their innocent victim.

Leave someone in the lurch (1500s) This idiom has its origins in a French cribbage-like game called lourche in which a player was said to be left in the lurch when s/he was put in a hopeless position.

Leave someone out in the cold (1500s) When the portcullis of a castle or other fortified building was lowered at dusk, members of the household were sometimes left out in the cold.

Please consider which three seem most authentic, then check answers in the comments section & let us all know how you did.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Phrase Finder, NTC’s American Idioms Dictionary, & Etymonline


  1. The legitimate origins were for:
    Leave someone high & dry,
    Leave someone holding the bag, &
    Leave someone in the lurch.
    I accept full responsibility for the incorrectness of the other three.

  2. Charlie, I got two of them. #1 and #3 above. But I went for the stone unturned. Wasn't there a joke about that one: leave no tern unstoned but can't remember the beginning. Great job. You had me fooled. :) P.

  3. Hey Paul - it's pleasure to have you visiting. Actually, the ruddy turnstone etymology is out there in the world, but fake. The date I provided is fake, too. The saying was around before English speakers spied any bird on this continent.

  4. Your made-up etymologies are hilarious! I wasn't sure about holding the bag. That sounded made-up too. :-) And Paul's addition of the tern unstoned is pretty funny too. We can learn and be silly too!

  5. I got #1 and #2 in your legitimate list above, but I went for the ruddy turnstone. I had heard the tern unstoned joke, but forgotten it until I read Paul's comment. That must be why it rung a bell.

    Fun post!!

  6. Ahoy Dawn & Anne - good to have you here. Oh, & the research suggests that terns' interest in recreational drugs appear to be about the same as other shorebirds. I'd hate for them to get a bad rap because of us.

  7. I went with high dry, in the lurch and out in the cold. The holding the bag one seemed pretty far fetched to me. But...I guess not! Very fun!

  8. Hi Christine - having spent some time myself searching for snipes (though our game was bag-free), I chuckled upon running into that one.

  9. Ahoy Chester
    I was disappointed that Twibbits is not a game. Thought Ellen and I might give it a go in our kilts!

  10. Terry, I can definitely imagine you & Ellen, kilt-clad, & twibbitzing!