I often wonder why certain phrases are used and where did they come from. Take for instance the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. What the hell does this mean? How does one pull themselves up by their bootstraps; and pull themselves up from where; and to where? A quick search on “the google” [sic] provides several explanations and/or definitions of this phrase including the etymology of the word “bootstrapping”.
It seems that there is a consensus that this often over used idiom comes from the 18th century; when a character in a book “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” pulled himself out of a swamp by his “pigtail”. How and why ponytail became bootstrap escapes me. There is also a theory floating around that the straps are referring to the laces on the boots and a person who finds him/herself in a difficult or nearly impossible situation would use those laces to wrap around a fence or rungs on a ladder and pull themselves up and out of whatever perceived difficulty they were faced with.
But when I think of this phrase I get a very different image; to me the only time this phrase would make sense would be if it were referring to someone riding a horse and he/she fell on either side of the horse and is hanging upside down with the spur strap of their boots caught between the stirrups whilst the animal is still riding. The unfortunate soul would then have to reach up against albeit impossible odds and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. Since the average person is not a cowboy nor do they wear boots with spurs and straps; I think it is time to retire this phrase once and for all.
What do you think?
photo source: Google images