(with) tongue in cheek

The phrase ‘(with) tongue in cheek’ originally referred to a sign of contempt or derision consisting in sticking one’s tongue in one’s cheek.

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(as) mad as a March hare

‘(As) mad as a March hare’ refers to the fact that, in the breeding season, the hare is characterised by much leaping, boxing and chasing in circles.

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origin of ‘barmy’ (crazy)

A ‘barmy’ person has a ‘frothy top’, insubstantial brains, from ‘barm’, the froth that forms on the top of fermenting malt liquors.

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origin of ‘poulet’ (love letter)

Of French origin, the word ‘poulet’, literally ‘chicken’, denotes a love letter. It probably refers to the fact that when folding these messages, one would make two tips resembling chicken wings.

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toot sweet

    The adverb toot sweet means straight away, immediately. Humorously after the English words toot and sweet, it represents an anglicised pronunciation of the synonymous French adverb tout de suite. Before the First World War, it was only used in representations of French speech. For example, an article titled Galloglossia, published in Sharpe’s London Magazine […]

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Galloglossia

  John Bull taking a Luncheon:—or—British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chère. hand-coloured etching by James Gillray, published on 24th October 1798 — © Trustees of the British Museum This print was published just after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile. He is shown in the forefront of British admirals and naval heroes, serving up […]

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ordeal

  L’épreuve du feu (l’inquisition) by Devritz (painter) and Leroy (engraver) – date unknown source: BIU Santé     The original meaning of the noun ordeal, from Old English ordāl, ordēl, is: an ancient test of guilt or innocence by subjection of the accused to severe pain, survival of which was taken as divine proof […]

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clew – clue

    photograph: pixabay     The noun clue appeared as a variant spelling of clew, of same pronunciation. Not frequent until the 17th century, clue has become the prevailing form of the word in the sense of a fact or idea that serves to reveal something or solve a problem. The word is from Old English cliwen, cleowen, meaning a ball formed by winding yarn, […]

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old chestnut – marronnier

    photograph: Alba Trees     The term old chestnut denotes a joke, story or subject that has become tedious and uninteresting through constant repetition. Here, the adjective old is simply an intensifier of the noun. The figurative use of chestnut originated in American-English theatrical slang. Diary of a Daly Débutante: being passages from the […]

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origin of ‘quiz’

Originally students’ slang, ‘quiz’ is from Latin ‘quis’, meaning ‘who’, as used by the Roman poet Horace in “vir bonus est quis?”, “who is a good man?”

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