5 Innocent Phrases With Surprisingly Dark Origins

Words and phrases are fairly straightforward things. Once upon a time, someone looked at an elephant and decided to call it an elephant, because what the hell else would you call an elephant? But as we've previously noted, language often takes some pretty bizarre turns on the way to its modern usage, and sometimes a seemingly innocent phrase is the result of one supremely fucked-up past.

#5. "The Seven-Year Itch"


What It Means Now:

Apparently, after seven years of marriage, the average man gets an itch in his junk that makes him want to go out, find a loose woman, and acquire himself a less metaphorical itch in his junk. This overwhelming urge to cheat after seven years of wedded bliss is referred to as the "seven-year itch" and was made popular by George Axelrod's 1952 comedic play of the same name. Said play was eventually adapted into the 1955 film starring Marilyn Monroe and panties, or at least that's the only part we remember.

Forgive us. We've been boringly married for over half a decade.

But It Used to Mean ...

Imagine that underneath her billowing white skirt is this:

Sven Teschke
Actually, that's a hand. The crotch is thrice as scary.

That, you suddenly lunchless ladies and gentlemen, is the original seven-year itch. The red, inflamed rash is an extremely contagious infection called scabies, and it's caused by evil little mites that burrow deep into the skin and cause an allergic reaction. Before modern medicine, scabies was known to plague those infected with it for damn near a decade -- and treatments never really prevented reinfection. So they called it "the seven-year itch" because "the infinite itch" provoked a few too many suicides upon diagnosis.

That means it wasn't an itch that happened every seven years; it was an itch that lasted seven years.

Because when you first see yourself with it, you break your mirror.

The most disturbing part? Scabies is classified by the World Health Organization as a water-based disease that's spread most easily through prolonged skin-to-skin contact. And now it's time for the reader participation portion of our article: Tell us, just what wet activity with prolonged skin contact might have caused the meaning of the seven-year itch to change from "scabies" to "cheating on your wife"?

Well, we guess "Marilyn Monroe" may still be technically correct.

20th Century Fox
"Ahhh, sweet, temporary relief!"

#4. "Blue Blood"


What It Means Now:

"Blue blood" refers to someone possessing a high class or status. It has a history of royal connotations, but the term is common even in places without kings and queens -- a "blue-blooded American" sounds like the epic fusion of patriotism and hypothermia, but actually refers to a person who was born holding a silver spoon in one hand and a Free Reality Show When You Come of Age card in the other.

To stay young, they inject blue jewels. Blood diamonds, mostly.

But It Used to Mean ...

This phrase manages the amazing feat of being simultaneously wrong, racist, and religiously intolerant. It's the hat trick of total dickitry. "Blue blood" came from the Spanish term "sangre azul" (dibs on the metal band name), and it hails from a time when people were under the impression that blood that had not yet been spilled via some medieval torture device was a Smurfy shade of blue. In 15th century Spain, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile realized that there were some Muslims and Jews coexisting peacefully with Christians in Southern Spain and decided they were having none of that shit.

Sebastiano del Piombo
They learned all this from Columbus, who discovered the Jews.

Once they'd conquered their southerly neighbors, the Spanish rulers kindly told the Muslims and Jews to either convert to Christianity or GTFO. Actually, both would be preferable. But when other people annoyingly continued to exist in their general area, the Spaniards faced a new problem: Now that the heathens had been forcibly converted, how could they, the inherently superior Spanish, prove that they were still inherently superior?

So the Castilians resorted to bragging about how pure their Christian lineage was, untainted by Jewish or Muslim blood. Spanish Christians were fairer than their reluctant converts, many of whom were of North African descent. Logic clearly dictated that, because white people could see their apparently blue veins through their skin, having blue veins was awesome.

And "blue-blooded" sounded more regal than "thin-skinned" or "pasty."

The term eventually made its way to the British, who realized they had a lock on this pasty transparent skin shit and laid claim to the phrase. Because America is basically Britain's rebellious mulleted child, the phrase jumped the pond and wound up an American political keyword.

#3. "Mumbo Jumbo"


What It Means Now:

"Mumbo jumbo" is religious nonsense used to fool the gullible masses, or the keyword-laden claptrap constantly tossed out by whichever presidential candidate you're not personally supporting (you know, that guy), or maybe it's the legalese spewed by a shady defense attorney in order to get his clearly guilty client off scot-free. In short, it's the art of bullshitting for nefarious purposes.

White House
At the presidential level, this can even manifest as Coco Jamboo.

But It Used to Mean ...

Pretty much the same thing, only it was part of an African ritual to oppress, terrify, and beat women into submission. So ... well, a little different, we guess. European explorers reported on the horrifying sexism they found within a particular tribe they encountered near Senegal, which is really saying something, since there is almost nothing that an 18th century white European male found sexist.

William Hogarth
The word didn't even exist till like the '60s.

In the 1730s, Francis Moore encountered the Mandingo tribe. Moore stated that the male Mandingos would dress "in a long Coat made of the Bark of Trees ... This is a Thing invented by the men to keep their Wives in awe." Apparently the women were taught to believe that this poor excuse for Ent cosplay was a god named Mumbo Jumbo. While this all sounds frankly ridiculous, it actually had serious consequences. Mumbo Jumbo settled disputes between the men and the women of the tribe, and since he was always played by a man, he didn't have much incentive to side with the ladies.

Mumbo Jumbo could pass sentences of severe beatings, imprisonment, or even death for little more than the mortal crime of having a vagina. Throughout the year, all men over the age of 16 took turns dressing up as this "god" and speaking in scary, nonsense gibberish. Due to a surplus in creativity, this cant language was also referred to as "Mumbo Jumbo." The women either didn't understand it or had to pretend like they didn't because, once again, their husbands would be totally at liberty to murder the shit out of them so long as Mumbo Jumbo said it was OK (spoiler: Mumbo Jumbo always said it was OK).

NY Public Library
Trust him. He carries the omniscient stick.

Now, if that was inexplicably accurate anthropological reporting on African culture from an 18th century Englishman or a series of misunderstandings, racist hyperbole, and fabrication -- that's up to history to decide. We're just relaying Moore's report. Whether you believe him or not, it doesn't change that the phrase as we know it today originally referred to a man pretending to have religious affiliations and using a bunch of gibberish to harm the opposite sex.

Fitting, then, that it applies to so many televangelists today.

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