When it’s obvious that a person is lying, we say he is “lying through his teeth.” While no one knows for sure where this phrase came from, there are a few theories that are worth noting. Here are the two most prominent ones: Fu manchu mustache styles.
To understand the first theory, imagine a shady used car salesman working a customer with a litany of slick lines uttered through a smile of pearly white teeth. In this sense, he is quite literally “lying through his teeth.”
The second theory is related to the art of ventriloquism, in which the performer inconspicuously speaks through clenched teeth so that the dummy appears to be doing the talking. Because this technique is used to create an illusion, some etymologists believe it is the basis for our present usage of the phrase.
“The senator was lying through his teeth when he claimed he knew nothing about the coverup.”
In the days before automobiles, travelers had to tie up (or, quite literally, park) their horses when they got to wherever they were going. Often, they would allow the animal a certain amount of room to roam about and feed on grass. Of course, the horse could only go as far as the rope’s slack would allow, meaning that he would have no food beyond the end of his tether.
That’s why, today, we use the phrase in reference to running out of some resource—usually patience.
“I couldn’t take another second of his whining. I was at the end of my tether.”
Of all the mustache styles out there, the Fu Manchu is one of the most distinctive. Divided by a clean-shaven space just under the nose at the center of the upper lip, the Fu Manchu extends along both sides of the mouth and continues downward to the chin as two tendrils.
The style gets its name from British author Sax Rohmer’s fictional character Dr. Fu Manchu. Interestingly, the character did not wear a mustache in Rohmer’s original stories. Instead, the association derives from the screen portrayals of Fu Manchu.
“In search of a more distinctive look, he decided to grow a Fu Manchu.”
To go on a bender is to embark on a prolonged period of drinking that may last for several days. But what does bending have to do with drinking? The answer is simple.
The phrase as we use it today dates back to the late nineteenth century but borrows its meaning from a much older piece of slang. In mid eighteenth-century parlance, “to bend” was to drink heavily—hence our use of the term “bender.”
“Her latest attempt at sobriety ended in failure when she went on a bender in Tijuana.”
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