I thought I’d start a regular weekly post to make sure I write something often. Each week I’ll choose a word, phrase or object and then explore its origin, simple as that. This week it’s the cliché:

‘On your bike!’

Originally ‘on your bike!’ was a British expression that came into use in the 1960s, meaning ‘push off’, ‘go away’, the sort of thing a policeman might say to a youth he suspects is up to no good (the Americans, meanwhile, could use ‘on your horse’ in the same way). From this, it also developed a more general sense of ‘get a move on’. However, in 1981, shortly after a series of violent poll-tax riots, the then Conservative Minister of Employment, Norman Tebbit, said in a speech at his party’s Political Conference, ‘I grew up in the thirties with our unemployed father. He did not riot, he got on his bike and looked for work.’ This was interpreted by the tabloid newspapers as an unsympathetic minister saying ‘On your bikes’ to the unemployed, and ever since then the expression has had both the original sense, and the sense of ‘go and look for work’. [Penguin Dictionary of Clichés]

Advertisements