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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‘low man on the totem (pole)’: meaning and origin

USA, 1941—the person with the least amount of experience, authority and/or influence in a group or organisation—apparently coined, as ‘low man on any totem pole’, by comedian Fred Allen in a portrait of his friend, humorist H. Allen Smith

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‘to have two left feet’ and synonymous phrases

‘to have two left feet’: to be clumsy or awkward—postdates synonymous ‘to have two left hands’ (1815), loan translation of French ‘avoir deux mains gauches’—‘left’ has long been associated with inferior performance, awkwardness and insincerity

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history of ‘piece of work’ (unpleasant person)

literal meaning, 1473: something produced or manufactured—1534: an arduous task—1810: a commotion, a fuss—1623: ‘a filthy piece of work’ is applied to a person in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens

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‘pumpkinification’: meanings and origin

UK, 1849—transformation into a pumpkin; extravagant or absurdly uncritical glorification—coined after Hellenistic Greek ‘ἀποκολοκύντωσις’, the title of a travesty ascribed to Seneca, according to which the deceased Roman emperor Claudius, instead of being elevated to divine status, is changed into a pumpkin

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early figurative uses of ‘domino’

USA, 1954—used of a theory that a political event or development in one country, etc., will lead to its occurrence in others—the image is of a falling domino causing an entire row of upended dominoes to fall

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‘worm’s-eye view’: meaning and origin

USA, 1898—a view as seen from below or from a humble position—refers to a view taken as from the standpoint of a worm, i.e. from ground-level—coined after ‘bird’s-eye view’ (1782), denoting a view of a landscape from above, such as is presented to the eye of a bird

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