‘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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‘no names, no pack drill’: meaning and origin

UK, 1890—used to indicate that the person or persons guilty of a misdemeanour will not be named, in order to spare them recrimination—‘pack drill’: a military punishment involving a lengthy period of marching up and down carrying full equipment

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