origin of ‘quiz’ (“Vir bonus est quis?”)?

Originally meaning ‘person of ridiculous appearance’, ‘quiz’ (students’ slang, late 18th century) was jocularly derived from the Latin interrogative pronoun ‘quis’ in “Vir bonus est quis?” (“Who is a good man?”)—a good, ingenuous, harmless man being likely to become an object of ridicule or even of harassment.

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the nonsensical origin of ‘Kilkenny cats’

‘To fight like Kilkenny cats’ means ‘to engage in a mutually destructive struggle’.—from the tale of two cats fighting until only their tails remained (early 19th century), which was originally meant to be nothing but amusing nonsense.

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the authentic origin of ‘a pretty kettle of fish’

The phrase ‘a pretty kettle of fish’ originally referred to a net full of fish, which, when drawn up with its contents, is suggestive of confusion, flurry and disorder—‘kettle’ being a form of ‘kiddle’, a noun denoting a dam or other barrier in a river, with an opening fitted with nets to catch fish.

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the authentic origin of ‘to rain cats and dogs’

First recorded circa 1629 as ‘to rain dogs and cats’, this phrase is based on a cat-and-dog fight as a metaphor for a storm or hard rain; the theory that Jonathan Swift coined the phrase is ludicrous.

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‘to sell sand in the Sahara’: meaning and origin

USA, 1907—refers to the supply of something to a place where it is not needed—in particular, ‘could sell sand in the Sahara’ is applied to an efficient salesman, and, by extension, to a persuasive person

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‘ignorance is bliss’: meaning and origin

means that, if one is unaware of an unpleasant fact or situation, one cannot be troubled by it—coined by the English poet Thomas Gray in An Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, first published in 1747

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‘a fox in a forest fire’: meanings and origin

USA, 1931—originated in sporting parlance—emphasises the meaning of the adjective it immediately follows—that adjective usually is ‘hot’ (used literally or figuratively) or describes agitation, erraticism

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‘pester power’: meaning and origin

USA, 1979—the children’s ability to pressurise their parents into buying something, or doing something for them, by continuing to ask for it until their parents agree to do it—originally referred to television advertising targeting children

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meaning and origin of the verb ‘MacGyver’

USA, 1992—to make or repair (something) in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand—also used figuratively—refers to Angus MacGyver, the lead character in the U.S. television series MacGyver (1985-92)

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