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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notes on the phrase ‘lorem ipsum’

a standard form of sample text beginning with ‘lorem ipsum’, used by compositors and graphic designers to establish or demonstrate the textual layout of a print or electronic document before the content has been finalised

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‘to cross the floor’: meanings and origin

UK, 1822—of a member of parliament: to join the party opposed to one’s present party—also to vote against one’s own party; to change sides on an issue—from the practice whereby a member of parliament literally crosses the floor to join another party

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‘paper tiger’: meaning and origin

UK, 1836—a person, country, etc., that appears powerful or threatening but is actually weak or ineffective—from Chinese ‘zhǐlǎohǔ’ (‘zhǐ’, paper, ‘lǎohǔ’, tiger)—used in the post-war years by the Chinese Communist Party of the USA and other reactionaries

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‘loony bin’: meaning and origin

1909 to 1923 in stories by English author P. G. Wodehouse—a facetious appellation for a home or hospital for people with mental illnesses—‘loony’: shortened form of ‘lunatic’

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‘Siberian Express’: meaning and origin

American English—a surge of extremely cold air which causes rapid falls in temperature and severe wintry weather in central and eastern areas of the United States and Canada—after ‘Trans-Siberian Express’, the name of a railway running from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan

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‘bush telegraph’: meanings and origin

Australia, 1863—originally referred to any chain of communications by which bushrangers were warned of police movements—soon extended to any rapid informal network by which information, rumour, gossip, etc., is spread

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‘to nail one’s colours to the mast’: meanings and origin

UK, 1808—to make one’s beliefs or intentions plain—from the former practice of nailing an ensign to the mast of a ship, after damage during battle resulted in the ship’s colours no longer being clearly displayed, which otherwise might have been interpreted as a signal of surrender

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‘cold turkey’ (as used of a drug addict)

USA, 1917—a method of treating a drug addict by sudden and complete withdrawal of the drug, instead of by a gradual process—alludes to the goose pimples, resembling the skin of a cold turkey, that a person experiences as a side effect of the treatment

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