‘Spy Wednesday’: meaning and origin

Ireland, 1809—the Wednesday before Easter—refers to the day on which Judas Iscariot formed the intent to betray Jesus—‘spy’ denotes ‘one who spies upon, or watches, a person or persons secretly’, because, from Wednesday onwards, Judas Iscariot secretly sought an opportunity to deliver Jesus to the Jewish authorities

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‘a sprat to catch a mackerel’: meaning and origin

1747—a small outlay or risk ventured in the hope or expectation of a significant return—a metaphor from fishing, in which sprats are used as bait to catch larger fish—in early use with the words ‘salmon’ and ‘herring’ instead of ‘mackerel’

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‘swellegant’: meaning and origin

USA, 1901—wonderfully stylish, elegant or fashionable—a blend of ‘swell’ and ‘elegant’—popularised by its use in the song Well, Did You Evah!, interpreted by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the 1956 film High Society

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‘to make a spoon or spoil a horn’: meaning and origin

Scotland, 1806—to make a determined effort to achieve something, whether ending in success or failure—refers to the making of spoons out of the horns of cattle or sheep, which was common in Scotland till late in the 19th century

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‘Bloomsday’: meanings and origin

the 16th of June 1904; also the 16th of June of any year, on which celebrations take place, especially in Ireland, to mark the anniversary of the events in Ulysses (1922), by the Irish author James Joyce—Leopold Bloom is one of the central characters in Ulysses, in which all the action takes place on one day, the 16th of June 1904

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‘Ruby Murray’: meaning and origin

UK, 1983—‘Ruby Murray’, the name of a Northern-Irish singer (1935-1996), is rhyming slang for the noun ‘curry’, denoting a dish of meat, vegetables, etc., cooked in an Indian-style sauce of hot-tasting spices and typically served with rice.

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‘see that’s wet, see that’s dry’: meaning and origin

Ireland, 1889—emphasises the truthfulness and sincerity of what one is saying—derives from a children’s oath which involved licking a finger, drying it, and drawing it across the throat while saying “My finger’s wet. My finger’s dry. Cut my throat if I tell a lie.”

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‘Scousette’: meaning and origin

1945—a woman from Liverpool, a city and seaport in north-western England—from the noun ‘Scouser’, denoting a person from Liverpool, and the suffix ‘-ette’, used to form nouns denoting female gender

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‘elbow grease’ | ‘huile de coude’

The humorous expression ‘elbow grease’ (1639) denotes vigorous physical labour, especially hard rubbing. The corresponding French expression is ‘huile de coude’ (1761), literally ‘elbow oil’.

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