the surprising origin of ‘under wraps’ (concealed)

USA, 1910s—originated in horse racing: ‘under wraps’ is used of a horse that the rider is holding back and intentionally keeping from running at top speed—not from the wrapping placed over newly developed machines before their official launch

Read More

origin of ‘to crawl out of the woodwork’

USA, 1930—‘to crawl, or to come, out of the woodwork’: of an unpleasant or unwelcome person or thing, to come out of hiding, to emerge from obscurity; the image is of vermin or insects crawling out of crevices or other hidden places in a building

Read More

origin of ‘apple polisher’ (a person who curries favour)

USA—‘apple polisher’ (1918): a person who curries favour with a superior; ‘apple polishing’ (1926): (an instance of) currying favour—with reference to the former practice of bringing a shiny apple as a gift to one’s teacher

Read More

How a murder popularised ‘sugar daddy’ in 1923.

from ‘heavy-sugar daddy’ (USA, 1923), popularised by the murder of Anna Keenan (a.k.a. Dorothy King), who was a ‘heavy-sugar baby’, i.e., a woman ‘coated’ with ‘sugar’ (i.e., money) by a ‘daddy’ (i.e., an older man)

Read More

origin of ‘decent’ (sufficiently clothed to see visitors)

USA, 1911—‘to be decent’: ‘to be sufficiently clothed to see visitors’; often as a coy or jocular enquiry ‘are you decent?’—originated in the question asked when knocking at the door of an actor’s or actress’s dressing room in a theatre

Read More

origin of ‘the end of civilization as we know it’

first recorded in the United Kingdom in 1914, with reference to the civilizational implication of the German invasion of Belgium at the beginning of World War One; therefore, not first used by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane (1941)

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘Dutch auction’

UK, 1788—denotes an auction in which the price is lowered by stages until a buyer is found—said to have been invented by the Dutch specifically as the best solution to selling tulip bulbs

Read More

origin of ‘double Dutch’ and ‘High Dutch’ (‘gibberish’)

‘double Dutch’, 19th century—from ‘Dutch’ in the sense of a language that few people can speak, and ‘double’ as a mere intensifier—‘High Dutch’, 17th century—loan translation from French ‘haut allemand’ (= ‘High German’), used in the sense of gibberish

Read More

origin of ‘Dutch treat’ and ‘to go Dutch’

USA—‘to go Dutch’ (1907): to have every participant pay their own expenses, or share expenses equally—via ‘to go Dutch treat’ (1887), from ‘Dutch treat’ (1873): a meal, etc., at which each participant pays their share of the expenses—from a German practice

Read More