Not Logged In Log In   Sign Up   Points Leaders
Follow Us    2:50 AM

Message Forum - Read Message

Category: Off Topic > Topics Add to favorite topics   Post new topicPost New Topic
Author Topic: Phrase Origins Back to Topics
crgator

Champion Author
Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: May 4, 2013 10:10:47 AM

Where did a phrase come from?

A shot in the arm

Meaning

A stimulus.

Origin

This expression derives from the invigorating effect of injecting drugs. A shot is of course US slang for an injection, either of a narcotic or medicinal drug. That term has been in use since around the beginning of the 20th century; for example, this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle Supplement, October 1904:

"I varied hardly a minute each day in the time of taking my injection. My first shot was when I awoke in the morning."

'A shot in the arm' came soon afterwards and the first mention of a figurative use of it in print that I can find is from the Maine newspaper The Lewiston Evening Journal, January 1916:

The vets can give politics a shot in the arm and the political leaders realize it.
REPLIES (newest first) Post a Reply
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Sep 1, 2013 9:16:07 AM

Hands Down - This basically means to score a victory without much work.

One version is with horse racing the jockey doesn't even have to lift his hands to guide his horse if he's way out in front.

Another one is for boxing in which the opponent is a pushover and so the winner doesn't even have to raise his hands to protect himself.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 31, 2013 9:09:33 AM

To throw in the towel / sponge

to surrender; admit defeat

In its original form, to throw up the sponge, this appears in "The Slang Dictionary" (1860). The reference is to the sponges used to cleanse combatants' faces at prize fights. One contestant's manager throwing in the sponge would signal that as that side had had enough the sponge was no longer required. In recent years, towels have been substituted for sponges at fights, and consequently in the expression too.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 30, 2013 9:08:40 AM

WHIPPING BOY

Meaning: A scapegoat, or something who is habitually picked on.

Origin: Hundreds of years ago, it was normal practice for a European prince to be raised with a commoner of the same age. Since princes couldn't be disciplined like ordinary kids, the commoner would be beaten whenever the prince did something wrong. The commoner was called the prince's "whipping boy.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 29, 2013 8:27:14 AM

IN THE LIMELIGHT

Meaning: At the center of attention.

Origin: In 1826, Thomas Drummond invented the limelight, an amazingly bright white light, by running an intense oxygen-hydrogen flame through a lime cylinder. At first, the bright light was used in lighthouses to direct ships. Later, theater began using the limelight like a spotlight - to direct the audience's attention to a certain actor. If an actor was to be the focal point of a particular scene, he was thrust "into the limelight."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 28, 2013 6:33:27 AM

SECOND STRING

Meaning: Replacement or backup.

Origin: You might have caught William Tell without an apple, but not without a second string. In medieval times, an archer always carried a second string in case the one on his bow broke.
Profile Pic
Glasman
Champion Author South Carolina

Posts:8,819
Points:985,000
Joined:Nov 2006
Message Posted: Aug 27, 2013 8:44:57 AM

I'm bored
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 27, 2013 6:39:19 AM

GOT A FROG IN MY THROAT

Meaning: I'm hoarse from a cold.

Origin: Surprisingly, this wasn't inspired by the croaking sound of a cold-sufferer's voice, but by a weird medical practice. "In the Middle Ages," says Christine Ammer in It's Raining Cats and Dogs, "infections such as thrush were sometimes treated by putting a live frog head first into the patient's mouth; by inhaling, the frog was believed to draw the patient's infection into its own body. The treatment is happily obsolete, but its memory survives in the 19th century term frog in one's throat."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 26, 2013 6:36:08 AM

TOE THE LINE

Meaning: Behave or act in accordance with the rules.

Origin: In the early days of the British Parliament, members wore swords in the House of Commons. To keep the members from fighting during heated debates, the Speaker of the House of Commons forced the Government and Opposition parties to sit on opposite sides of the chamber. Lines, two sword-lengths plus one foot apart, were drawn in the carpet. Members were required to stand behind the lines when the House was in session. To this day, when a member steps over the line during a debate, the speaker yells: "Toe the line!"
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 25, 2013 9:54:14 AM

PIE IN THE SKY

Meaning: An illusion, a dream, a fantasy, an unrealistic goal.

Origin: Joe Hill, a famous labor organizer of the early 20th century, wrote a tune called "The Preacher and the Slave," in which he accused the clergy of promising a better life in Heaven while people starved on Earth. A few of the lines: "Work and pray, live on hay, you'll get pie in the sky when you die (That's a lie!)."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 24, 2013 11:17:52 AM

HAVE AN AXE TO GRIND

Meaning: Having a hidden agenda.

Origin: The expression comes from a story told by Benjamin Franklin. A man once praised Franklin's father's grindstone and asked young Benjamin to demonstrate how the grindstone worked. As Franklin complied, the stranger placed his own axe upon the grindstone, praising the young boy for his cleverness and vigor. When the axe was sharpened, the man laughed at Franklin and walked away, giving the boy a valuable lesson about people with "an axe to grind."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 22, 2013 6:27:46 AM

YOU'RE NO SPRING CHICKEN

Meaning: You're not young anymore; you're past your prime.

Origin: Until recent generations, there were no incubators and few warm hen houses. That meant chicks couldn't be raised during winter. New England growers found that those born in the spring brought premium prices in the summer market places. When these Yankee traders tried to pass off old birds as part of the spring crop, smart buyers would protest that the bird was "no spring chicken."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 21, 2013 6:36:09 AM

STEAL SOMEONE'S THUNDER

Meaning: To preempt; to draw attention away from someone else's achievement in favor of your own.

Origin: English dramatist John Dennis invented a gadget for imitating the sound of thunder and introduced it in a play in the early 1700s. The play flopped. Soon after, Dennis noted that another play in the same theater was using his sound-effects device. He angrily exclaimed, "That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my play." The story got around London, and the phrase grew out of it.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 20, 2013 6:35:37 AM

HAVE A SCREW LOOSE

Meaning: Something is wrong with the person or mechanism.

Origin: The phrase comes from the cotton industry and dates back as far as the 1780s, when the industrial revolution made mass production of textiles possible for the first time. Huge mills sprang up to take advantage of the new technology (and the cheap labor), but it was difficult to keep all the machines running properly; any machine that broke down or produced defective cloth was said to have "a screw loose" somewhere.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 19, 2013 6:38:28 AM

NOT UP TO SCRATCH

Meaning: Inadequate, subpar.

Origin: In the early days of boxing, there was no bell to signal the beginning of a round. Instead, the referee would scratch a line on the ground between fighters, and the round began when both men stepped over it. When a boxer couldn't cross the line to keep a match going, people said that he was not "up to the scratch."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 17, 2013 9:24:06 AM

I'VE GOT A FROG IN MY THROAT

Meaning: I'm hoarse from a cold.

Origin: Surprisingly, this wasn't inspired by the croaking sound of a cold-sufferer's voice, but by a weird medical practice. "In the Middle Ages," says Christine Ammer in It's Raining Cats and Dogs, "infections such as thrush were sometimes treated by putting a live frog head first into the patient's mouth; by inhaling, the frog was believed to draw the patient's infection into its own body. The treatment is happily obsolete, but its memory survives in the 19th century term frog in one's throat."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 16, 2013 6:45:50 AM

LONG IN THE TOOTH

Meaning: Old.

Origin: Originally used to describe old horses. As horses age, their gums recede, giving the impression that their teeth are growing. The longer the teeth look, the older the horse.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 15, 2013 6:45:01 AM

FLASH IN THE PAN

Meaning: Short-lived success.

Origin: In the 1700s, the pan of a flintlock musket was a part that held the gunpowder. If all went well, sparks from the flint would ignite the charge, which would then propel the bullet out of the barrel. However, sometimes the gun powder would burn without igniting a main charge. The flash would burn brightly but only briefly, with no lasting effect.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 14, 2013 6:40:57 AM

PUT UP YOUR DUKES

Meaning: Raise your fists and get ready to fight.

Origin: In the early 1800s, the Duke of York, Frederick Augustus, shocked English society by taking up boxing. He gained such admiration from boxers that many started referring to their fists as the "Dukes of York," and later "dukes."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 13, 2013 6:40:14 AM

X X X

Meaning: A kiss, at the end of a letter.

Origin: In medieval times, when most people were illiterate, "contracts were not considered legal until each signer included St. Andrew's cross after their name." (Or instead of a signature, if the signer couldn't write.) To prove their sincerity, signers were then required to kiss the X. "Throughout the centuries this custom faded out, but the letter X [became associated] with a kiss." This is also probably where the phrase "sealed with a kiss" comes from.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 12, 2013 6:47:42 AM

Pressed for an answer

This one has a horribly literal origin.

In the middle ages, captives would have heavy weights loaded straight on to their chests in an effort to squeeze a confession out of them during interrogation.

Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 11, 2013 9:31:08 AM

BEYOND THE PALE

Meaning: Socially unacceptable.

Origin: "The pale in this expression has nothing to do with the whitish color, but comes originally from the Latin palus, meaning a pole, or stake. Since stakes are often used to mark boundaries, a pale was a particular area within certain limits." The pale that inspired this expression was the area around Dublin in Ireland. Until the 1500s, that area was subject to British law. "Those who lived beyond the pale were outside English jurisdiction and were thought to be uncivilized." (From Getting to the Roots, by Martin Manser)
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 10, 2013 9:31:53 AM

LAY AN EGG

Meaning: Fail.

Origin: From the British sport of cricket. When you fail to score, you get a zero - which looks like an egg. The term is also taken from baseball, where a zero is a "goose egg."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 9, 2013 8:45:48 AM

TO THE BITTER END

Meaning: To the very end - often an unpleasant one.

Origin: Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with bitterness. It's a sailing term that refers to the end of a mooring line or anchor line that is attached to the bitts, sturdy wooden or metal posts that are mounted on the ship's deck.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 8, 2013 8:44:50 AM

PAY THROUGH THE NOSE
Meaning: To pay a high price; to pay dearly.
Origin: Comes from the ninth-century Ireland. When the Danes conquered the Irish, they imposed an exorbitant Nose Tax on the island's inhabitants. They took a census (by counting noses) and levied oppressive sums on their victims, forcing them to pay by threatening to have their noses actually slit. Paying the tax was "paying trough the nose."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 7, 2013 9:04:05 AM

FLY OFF THE HANDLE Meaning: Get very angry, very quickly. Origin: Refers to axe heads, which, in the days before mass merchandising, were sometimes fastened poorly to their handles. If one flew off while being used, it was a dangerous situation ... with unpredictable results.
Profile Pic
GasPasserAB
Champion Author Edmonton

Posts:30,800
Points:1,180,045
Joined:Apr 2010
Message Posted: Aug 6, 2013 3:11:45 PM

antipodes

PRONUNCIATION:
(an-TIP-uh-deez) Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.
MEANING:
noun:
1. Two places situated on the diametrically opposite sides of the earth.
2. The exact opposite of someone or something.
3. Australia and New Zealand. ETYMOLOGY:
Via Latin from Greek antipodes (literally, those having the feet opposite, i.e. having feet on opposite sides of the earth), plural of antipous, from anti- (opposite) + pous (foot). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ped- (foot) which gave us peccadillo (alluding to a stumble or fall), pedal, impeccable, podium, octopus, and impeach. Earliest documented use: 1398. USAGE:
"Tasmania's most celebrated attraction now is the Museum of Old and New Art, outside Hobart. Everyone in the antipodes knows its titillating backstory."
James Fallows; Tasmania: Maybe the Most Unforgettable Place Ever; The Atlantic Monthly (Boston); Jun 19, 2013.

"At no other time have the sensibilities of America's Atlantic and Pacific cosmopolitan antipodes stood in sharper contrast."
Peter Schjeldahl; Seeing and Disbelieving; The New Yorker; Jul 2013.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 6, 2013 9:58:43 AM

To make hay while the sun shines

to take advantage of favorable circumstances; they may not last.
This old expression refers to the production of hay, or dried grass. The warmth of the sun is required to dry the grass and turn it into hay. As the sun is notoriously unpredictable (it may be cloudy later) the message of this aphorism is clear. The expression dates back many centuries, and has changed little in form. John Heywood included the following in his "All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue" (1546):
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 5, 2013 10:22:15 AM

'To let your hair down'

In Tudor England the ladies wore their hair up, and in 'wimples' (those pointed bonnets you see in paintings). Beneath, their hair was piled high and pinned.

Naturally, in the bed chamber, caps and hats, as well as other garments, were disposed of. It was a time for wanton behaviour and abandonment - but only in the bedroom, and in private.

Hence, letting one's hair down was a practical as well as a symbolic thing.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Aug 3, 2013 10:36:29 AM

CHARLEY HORSE
Meaning: A muscle cramp.
Origin: In 1640, Charles I of England expanded the London police force. The new recruits were nicknamed "Charleys." There wasn't enough money to provide the new police with horses so they patrolled on foot. They joked that their sore feet and legs came from riding "Charley's horse."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 31, 2013 10:13:58 AM

wrong end of the stick -If you imaged the most disgusting origin then you were right! I've heard two explanations that vary slightly. One comes from the outhouse days when there were no flushing toilets and the other dates back much earlier, to the days of the Roman baths. Regardless, the outcome was the same! The person in the next stall may have asked for their neighbor to "pass the stick," instead of toilet paper since that was yet to exist. The stick had a sponge on one end and if the recipient grabbed the wrong end, they'd be getting the wrong end of the stick. Most definitely unpleasant!
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 30, 2013 10:15:25 AM

'A Square Meal'

The saying having a square meal comes from the English Royal Navy during the time of Nelson. In order to stop the plates/ dishes slipping around on the table when the ship was at sea, four pieces of wood were nailed to the benches in the shape of a square to stop the plates from slipping... hence 'having a square meal'.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 29, 2013 9:28:19 AM

By and large

Many everyday phrases are nautical in origin— “taken aback,” “loose cannon” and “high and dry” all originated at sea—but perhaps the most surprising example is the common saying “by and large.” As far back as the 16th century, the word “large” was used to mean that a ship was sailing with the wind at its back. Meanwhile, the much less desirable “by,” or “full and by,” meant the vessel was traveling into the wind. Thus, for mariners, “by and large” referred to trawling the seas in any and all directions relative to the wind. Today, sailors and landlubbers alike now use the phrase as a synonym for “all things considered” or “for the most part.”
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 28, 2013 8:21:42 AM

As mad as a hatter

utterly insane
There is a number of theories about the root of this similie. Perhaps the most intriguing, and also plausible, was offered in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" (vol. 155, no. 3). Mercury used to be used in the manufacture of felt hats, so hatters, or hat makers, would come into contact with this poisonous metal a lot. Unfortunately, the effect of such exposure may lead to mercury poisoning, one of the symptoms of which is insanity.

Famously, Lewis Carroll wrote about the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland" (1865), but there is at least one earlier reference to the expression: in "The Clockmaker" (1817) by Thomas Haliburton.

These days speakers of American English, who use "mad" to mean "angry" as well as "crazy", may be heard to misuse the expression in the former sense.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 27, 2013 9:28:02 AM

To throw the book at someone

To punish someone severely. This figurative book is presumably a book of rules or laws. Originally, and still in its normal usage, this expression meant to impose the maximum penalty. For criminals this is likely to mean life imprisonment. Nowadays, the expression may be used more generally, often where the punishment or reprimand is far less extreme.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 26, 2013 5:34:14 AM

To make no bones about a matter

to speak frankly and directly
A form of this expression was used as early as 1459, to mean to have no difficulty. It seems evident that the allusion is to the actual occurrence of bones in stews or soup. Soup without bones would offer no difficulty, and accordingly one would have no hesitation in swallowing soup with no bones.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 23, 2013 6:26:32 AM

Diehard

While it typically refers to someone with a strong dedication to a particular set of beliefs, the term “diehard” originally had a series of much more literal meanings. In its earliest incarnation in the 1700s, the expression described condemned men who struggled the longest when they were executed by hanging. The phrase later became even more popular after 1811’s Battle of Albuera during the Napoleonic Wars. In the midst of the fight, a wounded British officer named William Inglis supposedly urged his unit forward by bellowing “Stand your ground and die hard … make the enemy pay dear for each of us!” Inglis’ 57th Regiment suffered 75 percent casualties during the battle, and went on to earn the nickname “the Die Hards.”
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 20, 2013 10:22:50 AM

Okay

Meaning

Satisfactory - all correct.

Origin

Such a short word and the source of so much dispute. It is possibly the phrase with more alternative suggested derivations than any other. The contenders include:

Terms from various languages that sound similar to 'okay' in English; for example:

from the Scots - 'och aye' (yes, indeed)
from Choctaw-Chickasaw, 'okah' (it is indeed)
from Greek, 'ola kala' ( everything is well)
from Finnish, 'oikea' (correct, exact)
from Mandingo, 'O ke', (certainly)

A shortened version of 'Oll Korrect', used by President Andrew Jackson when initialing papers
'Old Kinderhook' - nickname of President Martin van Buren.
'Aux quais' - the mark put on bales of cotton in Mississippi river ports.
'0 killed' - the report of the night's death toll during the First World War.
'Orl Korrect' - military reporting indicating troops were in good order.
etc, etc.

Despite there being many rival suggested origins there is actually a well-researched and reliable source for the phrase. In 1963, in American Speech, the celebrated etymologist Professor Allen Walker Read published his extensive research into this phrase. To put his findings into context he explains the craze for the use of abbreviations that flourished in Boston, beginning in summer 1838. He found the earliest recorded use of OK (as opposed to okay, which came slightly later) in the Boston Morning Post, 23rd March 1839, in a story about an odd group known as the Anti-Bell Ringing Society (ABRS). Their reason to be was to have the law relating to the ringing of dinner bells changed. In that article it appears that OK was used as a shortened form of "oll korrect", a comic version of "all correct".

We don't really have to look further for the origin, but people still do.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much hope of Read's work being accepted as definitive. Even as early as 1840, which by Read's account is but a few months after the term was coined, there was a dispute about its origin and meaning. In the Lexington Intelligencer, 9th October 1840, we have:

"Perhaps no two letters have ever been made the initials of as many words as O.K... When first used they were said to mean Out of Kash, (cash;) more recently they have been made to stand for Oll Korrect, Oll Koming, Oll Konfirmed, &c. &c."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 6, 2013 8:41:05 AM

Off the record

Meaning

Something said in confidence that the speaker doesn't want attributed to them.

Origin

This is an American phrase and began to be used there in the 1930s. The first citation I have of it 'on the record' is in a report of a social event attended by President Franklin Roosevelt, in the North Carolina newspaper The Daily Times-News, November 1932:

"He [Roosevelt] said that he was going to talk 'off the record', that it was mighty nice to be able to talk 'off the record' for a change and that he hoped to be able to talk 'off the record' often in the future. He told a couple of funny stones and everybody laughed and cheered."
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jul 4, 2013 11:27:41 AM

FLY OFF THE HANDLE

Meaning: Get very angry, very quickly.

Origin: Refers to axe heads, which, in the days before mass merchandising, were sometimes fastened poorly to their handles. If one flew off while being used, it was a dangerous situation ... with unpredictable results.
Profile Pic
marcelpr
Champion Author New Orleans

Posts:2,401
Points:702,500
Joined:Dec 2011
Message Posted: Jun 30, 2013 9:34:47 AM

You laugh, but God reloads..

Russian proverb
Profile Pic
marcelpr
Champion Author New Orleans

Posts:2,401
Points:702,500
Joined:Dec 2011
Message Posted: Jun 30, 2013 9:33:05 AM

Straighten up and fly right!

Today, this expression sounds kind of negative, almost like a threat.

Originally, from personnel watching US bomber squadrons returning to England from missions during WWII. When a shot-up, straggling plane was struggling to make the runway, "Straighten up and fly right!" was spoken, almost like a prayer.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jun 30, 2013 8:05:55 AM

Fall guy

Meaning

A scapegoat; one who takes on the responsibilities or workload of others. Here 'fall' is used with the criminal slang meaning of 'arrest' or 'period in prison'. More recently, it has also come to mean a person who is easily duped or outmaneuvered.

Origin

It can come as little surprise to hear that this is an American phrase. It emerged around the beginning of the 20th century. The earliest citation that I can find is from the Oakland Tribune, December 1904:

"Bard is worked as a 'fall guy'. When some one comes along with a pull on Perkins and asks for a job that the senior Senator doesn't want to give him, it is very convenient to pass the burden of refusal on to Bard. ... it is easy enough to see how handy is a good 'fall guy' for cases of annoying emergency."

The term 'fall money' was also in use in the USA from the late 19th century onward. This was a stash of money put aside for a criminal while in jail. A 'fall guy' who had 'taken the rap' for a wealthier or more powerful colleague could expect to receive 'fall money' on release from prison.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jun 22, 2013 10:59:56 AM

Barking up the wrong tree

Meaning

Making a mistake or a false assumption in something you are trying to achieve.

Origin

The allusion is to hunting dogs barking at the bottom of trees where they mistakenly think their quarry is hiding.

The earliest known printed citation is in James Kirke Paulding's Westward Ho!, 1832:

"Here he made a note in his book, and I begun to smoke him for one of those fellows that drive a sort of a trade of making books about old Kentuck and the western country: so I thought I'd set him barking up the wrong tree a little, and I told him some stories that were enough to set the Mississippi a-fire; but he put them all down in his book."

The phrase must have caught on in the USA quickly after Hall's book. It appeared in several American newspapers throughout the 1830s; for example, this piece from the Gettysburg newspaper The Adams Sentinel, March 1834:

"Gineral you are barkin' up the wrong tree this time, for I jest see that rackoon jump to the next tree, and afore this he is a mile off in the woods.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jun 15, 2013 10:34:06 AM

Jack of all trades

Meaning

A man who can turn his hand to many things.

Origin

With any phrase that includes a name, it's natural to consider whether its the name of a real person. In this case, as was the case with many other literary Jacks - Jack the Lad, Jack Robinson, Jack Sprat, Jack Horner, Jack Frost, etc, Jack of all trades was a generic term rather than a living and breathing individual. In fact, the very long list of terms that include 'Jack' exceeds that of any other name in English and this reflects the fact that, as a derivative of the common name 'John', 'Jack' has been used just to mean 'the common man'.

This usage dates back to the 14th century and an example is found in John Gower's Middle English poem Confessio Amantis, 1390: Therwhile he hath his fulle packe, They seie, 'A good felawe is Jacke'.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jun 8, 2013 10:51:25 AM

Warts and all

Meaning

The whole thing; not concealing the less attractive parts.

Origin

This phrase is said to derive from Oliver Cromwell's instructions to the painter Sir Peter Lely, when commissioning a portrait. Read more
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jun 2, 2013 10:22:14 AM

To break the ice

(1) to relax a tense or formal atmosphere or social situation; (2) to make a start on some endeavor.

This came into general use, in sense (1), in English through Lord Byron's "Don Juan" (1823) in the lines:

"And your cold people [the British] are beyond all price,
When once you've broken their confounded ice."

The ice in question is metaphorically that on a river or lake in early spring. To break the ice would be to allow boats to pass, marking the beginning of the season's activity after the winter freeze. In this way, this expression has been connected to the start of enterprise for abour 400 years.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: Jun 1, 2013 9:19:41 AM

Raining Cats and Dogs

Meaning

Raining very heavily.

Origin

This is an interesting phrase in that, although there's no definitive origin, there is a likely derivation. Before we get to that, let's get some of the fanciful proposed derivations out of the way.

continue
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: May 29, 2013 6:17:35 AM

Half-hearted

Meaning

Having one's intentions divided; not fully committed; lacking zeal or courage.

Origin

It might be thought that 'half-hearted' is a diminutive form of the more commonly used term 'whole-hearted'. In fact, it is the other way about. Both are of English origin. 'Whole-hearted' first saw the light of day in the 19th century, while 'half-hearted' is mediaeval. 'Half-hearted' is a derivative of the slightly earlier 'faint-hearted'.

The metaphorical concept of 'heart' is at the root of faint-hearted and half-hearted. To the mediaeval way of thinking, the heart was the source of a person's being and the belief of the time was that the physical state of one's heart controlled one's demeanour. The later term 'whole-hearted' refers to a later meaning of 'heart', which was 'courage; manliness'.

The earliest examples of these phrases that I have found are:

- Faint-hearted: In the first English-Latin dictionary The Promptorium Parvulorum, circa 1440: "Feynt hertyd, vecors".

- Half-hearted: In John Florio's Italian-English dictionary Queen Anna's New World of Words, 1611: "Semicorde, a coward, halfe-hearted".

- Whole-hearted: In The Missionary Magazine - February, 1801: "I abhor the practice of those whole-hearted men, who throw out the terrors of hell and damnation in a light and impudent way".
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: May 28, 2013 11:54:51 AM

A fly in the ointment

Meaning

A small but irritating flaw that spoils the whole.

Origin

These days ointments are chiefly for medicinal use - just the thing for rubbing on that nasty rash. In earlier times, ointments were more likely to be creams or oils with a cosmetic or ceremonial use. Literally, ointment was the substance one was annointed with. There is considerable annointing in Bible stories and it isn't surprising therefore that this phrase has a biblical origin. Ecclesiastes 10:1 (King James Version) has:

"Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour."

Our contempary phrase 'the fly in the ointment' didn't appear until later. The earliest example I have found in print of that precise wording is in John Norris' A Practical Treatise Concerning Humility, 1707:

'Tis that dead fly in the ointment of the Apothecary.
Profile Pic
crgator
Champion Author Florida

Posts:10,264
Points:2,068,725
Joined:Sep 2005
Message Posted: May 25, 2013 7:37:56 AM

Cut and run

Meaning

Run away.

Origin

This term is the shortened form of the earlier phrases 'cut and run away' and 'cut and run off'. It has been suggested that it has a nautical derivation and that it refers to ships making a hasty departure by the cutting of the anchor rope and running before the wind. That isn't absolutely proven although the earliest known citation does come from a seafaring context. Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, 1590 has this line:

"It [a ship] cut away upon the yielding wave."

It could be that 'cut' doesn't relate to rope actually being cut. It may just be that word was chosen with the allusion to cutting in the sense of passing straight though. Similar recent phrases are (from the USA) 'cut class' and (from Australia) 'shoot through'.

The earliest known citation of 'cut and run' is the 1704 Boston News Letter:

"Cap. Vaughn rode by said Ship, but cut & run."

The 'cutting rope' derivation was certainly accepted later in that century by David Steel, the author of the 1794 tome The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship:

"To Cut and run, to cut the cable and make sail instantly, without waiting to weigh anchor."

The 'away' and 'off' suffixes to the term were still in use after that and Charles Dickens is good enough to use all three in his works:

1834 - Sketches by Boz: "The linen-draper cut off himself, leaving the landlord his compliments and the key."

1848 - Dombey and Son: "[Mr. Toodle] tapped her on the back; and said, with more fatherly feeling than eloquence, 'Polly! cut
away!'"

1861 - Great Expectations: "I hope, Joe, we shan't find them." and Joe whispered to me, "I'd give a shilling if they had cut and run, Pip."
Post a reply Back to Topics