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Where did that phrase come from - Tied up in knots
Stan St. Clair

During the COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of people have been “all tied up in knots,” especially those on the front lines of the battle to keep people alive, and the infected persons and their families.

This metaphoric expression is akin to “butterflies in my stomach.” A knot, in this sense, is defined as any cluster or small group of things, and when people get “bumfuzzled” about a situation their gastric juices get jumbled in their stomach and they can become physically ill.

Though these are different clichés they are listed together because of the use of “knot,” and the fact there could be some connection. 

The word knot itself is from the Middle English from the Old English cnotte, and The Legend of St. Katherine, circa 1225, used the Middle English word “cnotte” to mean the tie of the bond of wedlock. “Swa ye cnotte is icnut bituhhen unc tweien.”

This is hardly recognizable as English, as it seems a bit Scandinavian to Germanic. Now marriage gets a lot of folks “all in a tizzy.” But the meaning stuck and it continued to be used in various books through the ages.

Francis Grose, in “The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” 1811, which enjoyed several editions, and today is foreign to our way of thinking on most terms, listed the “knot tied with the tongue” referring to marriage.

“He has tied a knot with his tongue that he cannot untie with his teeth: i.e. he is married.”

All tied up in knots came to mean nervous and irritable. Another variation is “don’t get your panties in a wad (or knickers in a knot).”


If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.