one man’s meat is another man’s poison

  RAILWAY MANIA. WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY ALFRED CROWQUILL. Railway Speculation has become the sole object of the world—cupidity is aroused, and roguery shields itself under its name, as a more safe and rapid way of gaining its ends. Abroad as well as at home, has it proved the rallying point of all rascality—the honest […]

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hair of the dog

  A Mad Dog in a Coffee House (London, 20th March 1809) by the English caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)     The term hair of the dog denotes an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover. It is a shortening of the phrase hair of the dog that bit you, first recorded in A dialogue […]

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blotto

  The adjective blotto, which has mainly been used to mean drunk, originated in World War One British military slang. It is first recorded in this sense in the chapter Slang in a War Hospital of Observations of an Orderly: Some Glimpses of Life and Work in an English War Hospital (London, July 1917), by Lance-Corporal Ward Muir: The words […]

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to eat humble pie

  A puzzle published in The Hibernian Magazine, or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge (Dublin, Ireland) in 1774 punned on the humble of humble pie, which may indicate that the latter term was already used figuratively at that time. The following is from the October issue:                     […]

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flea market

  Marché aux puces à Montreuil – Agence Meurisse – 1928 source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France     The term flea market is a calque of French marché aux puces. Both names denote a street market selling second-hand goods. In In Europe (Pusey Press, New York, 1922), the American author George Samuel Dougherty […]

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to play to the gallery

  the gods at the Comedy Theatre, London, 1949 source: Historic England – The Theatres Trust     Via Middle French galerie, the noun gallery, attested in the late 15th century, is from the medieval Latin of Italy galeria, an alteration of medieval Latin galilaea, designating a porch at the entrance of a monastery’s church—hence English […]

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toad-in-the-hole – pigeon à la crapaudine

    In a letter that she wrote to her sister in December 1797, the English novelist, diarist and playwright Madame d’Arblay (née Frances Burney – 1752-1840) gave an account of a conversation with Princess Augusta, daughter of King George III (Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), one of the greatest English tragediennes, had bought Sadler’s Wells, a London […]

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to play gooseberry

PLAYING “GOOSEBERRY.” Incredible though the statement may sound in these days, there still exist shy and diffident lovers of both sexes to whom, before they are quite, quite sure of themselves or each other, the presence of a “gooseberry” acts at once as support and fillip. Naturally the sensible girl will select as gooseberry a […]

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Simon says

    Of American-English origin, Simon says denotes a children’s game in which players must obey the leader’s instructions only if they are prefaced with the words Simon says; it also denotes the command itself. The name Simon was probably chosen for alliterative effect (Simon says). The earliest instance that I have found is the […]

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to make a hash of something – to settle someone’s hash

    The verb hash, which dates back to the mid-17th century, is from French hacher, meaning to chop, to mince, itself from the feminine noun hache, meaning an axe. (English hatchet is from the diminutive of hache, hachette.) The literal sense of the noun hash is a dish consisting of meat which has been […]

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