Everyone talks, and some people are better at it than others. There’s always that one guy at the party with one more story. The gift of chatting to strangers is one that some people envy. Others are glad they’re not the target of the gab. There are several idioms in English that are about chatting. Some of them involve guns, some of them involve food, and some are just strange. No matter which term you choose, get ready for an important conversation about unimportant conversations. Let’s shoot the breeze about small talk.
Something to chew on
The year 1999 was an interesting year for gossip. The looming New Millenium had people spreading rumors like germs at a kindergarten. The world might have been coming to an end, so actual information often took the place of solid information. English idioms weren’t immune to this effect either, and it gave us something to chew on. Fat, we were chewing the fat.
This phrase was said to have originated in the 1500s. Meat wasn’t always available unless you had money. When people came over, they would hang out in the main room. While they were waiting for dinner, the host was supposed to have cut a piece of meat off, and the guests would “Chew the fat” while chewing the meat.
As with most millennial predictions, this explanation turns out to be flat-out wrong. The oldest verifiable appearance of this phrase was in the late 1800s. It was originally Chew the rag, and it appears to have always meant small talk. Unfortunately, while this phrase probably had a more literal meaning at one time, that has been lost to history.
Guns for Days: Shoot the Breeze
If you spend any time in the United States, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that guns are popular. It would make sense that their idioms reflect this as well. Many of the American idioms reflect war, sports, or competition. “ Shoot the breeze ,” (To talk without purpose), is no exception. Despite rigorous research, the origin of this phrase is unclear. Much like it’s cousin, “Riding Shotgun” It appears to have come from Hollywood’s depiction of the Wild West.
Whether they said it or not, The wild west could be boring. Without the wonderful world of Wifi, and the closest human contact was hours away, they had to do something. Idle gunfire brought a moment of excitement to a boring day. Whether or not real cowboys “Shoot the breeze” or “Shoot the shit (Its lesser known cousin-phrase) didn’t matter to Hollywood. So when 1941’s new movies came out, “Shoot the breeze,” broke into the mainstream.
These are just two terms for talking about nothing.
What others can you think of?
Do you know how to express “Shoot the breeze” in other languages?
Let me know in the comments section!