origin of ‘once in a blue moon’

‘Once in a blue moon’ is a development from ‘once in a moon’, meaning ‘once a month’, hence ‘occasionally’—‘blue’ is merely a meaningless fanciful intensive.

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the authentic 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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the cultural background to ‘the Swan of Avon’

an epithet for William Shakespeare, born at Stratford-upon-Avon, on the River Avon—first used by Ben Jonson in the earliest collected edition (1623) of Shakespeare’s plays—but this use of ‘swan’ for a bard, a poet, is rooted in a tradition going back to antiquity

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the jocular origin of ‘happy as Larry’

from 1857 onwards in Australian newspapers, but apparently of Irish-English origin—the forename ‘Larry’ was probably chosen as a jocular reinforcement, a variant reduplication, of the adjective ‘happy’

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Anglo-Indian origin of ‘loot’ (goods stolen in war)

UK, early 19th century—private property taken from an enemy in war—originally an Anglo-Indian noun, from Hindi ‘lūṭ’, from Sanskrit ‘luṇṭh-‘, ‘to rob’—came to be also used as slang for ‘money’ and to also denote ‘wedding presents’

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‘deliver a baby’: a consumerist approach to childbirth?

Originally, the mother was the object of ‘deliver’, the image was of delivering (freeing) her from the burden of pregnancy. Nowadays, the healthcare provider or the mother is the subject, the image is of delivering (handing over) the baby, as if it were a package.

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‘slipshod’: ‘wearing loose shoes or slippers’

‘slipshod’: ‘characterised by a lack of care, thought or organisation’—formed after the obsolete noun ‘slip-shoe’ (= ‘a loosely fitting shoe or slipper’); ‘shod’ (meaning ‘wearing shoes’) is the past participle of the verb ‘shoe’

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the curious history of ‘Quorn’ (meat substitute)

The name ‘Quorn’ was first registered as a trademark—for certain edible products other than meat substitutes—by the Quorn Specialities Company of Leicester, England, in 1914. The meat substitute was subsequently developed by the successors of this company.

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origin of ‘rival’: one using the same stream as another

From ‘rīvus’, ‘a stream’, the Latin adjective ‘rīvālis’ (of, or belonging to, a stream) was used as a plural noun, ‘rīvāles’, to denote persons who have to use the same stream, and persons who have the same mistress, competitors in love.

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origin of ‘handicap’: ‘hand in cap’ (name of a game)

mi-17th century—probably from ‘hand in (the) cap’, used of a sort of game in which players put forfeit money in a cap and then drew from it—later applied to a race between two horses (the better of which carried extra weight), arranged by such rules

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