origin of ‘castles in Spain’

In French medieval chansons de geste ‘castles in Spain’ denoted fiefs that had to be conquered from the Saracens by the knights to whom they had been granted.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘red in tooth and claw’

UK, 1857—characterised by savage violence or merciless competition—from Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘In Memoriam’ (1850), in which ‘red in tooth and claw’ refers to Nature’s brutality

Read More

the probable origin of ‘monkey business’

UK, 1835—mischievous or deceitful behaviour—alludes to the proverbial playfulness of monkeys—probably modelled on Bengali ‘bãdrāmi’; cf. modern Sanskrit ‘vānara-karman’, from ‘vānara’ (monkey) and ‘karman’ (action, work, employment)

Read More

‘like a million dollars’ vs. ‘like thirty cents’

USA—‘to look, or to feel, (like) a million dollars’, or ‘(like) a million bucks’: to look, or to feel, extremely good, or extremely attractive (early 20th century)—sometimes used in contrast to ‘like thirty, or 30, cents’: cheap, worthless (late 19th century)

Read More

origin of ‘Stepford’ (robotically conformist or obedient)

robotically conformist or obedient—from The Stepford Wives (1972 novel by Ira Levin and 1975 film adaptation by Bryan Forbes), in which Stepford is the name of a superficially idyllic suburb where the men have replaced their wives with obedient robots

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘the milk in the coconut’

‘the milk in the coconut’: a puzzling fact or circumstance; alludes to the question of how the milk got into the coconut—of British-English origin (1832), not of American-English origin as stated by the Oxford English Dictionary

Read More

How poverty and war produced ‘latchkey child’.

originally: a child wearing the house key tied around their neck and staying in the streets while their mother is at work—USA, 1935: a poor Afro-American woman’s child—USA & UK, WWII: a child whose mother was engaged in war industry

Read More