pigs might fly

The original form of this phrase was ‘pigs fly with their tails forward’. Also: the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish equivalent expressions.

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the various meanings of ‘earthling’

Before being a science-fiction term used by aliens to refer to an inhabitant of the earth, ‘earthling’ denoted an inhabitant of the earth as opposed to heaven.

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Yorkshire tyke

The word ‘tyke’, a nickname for a person from Yorkshire, originally meant ‘mongrel’. The people from Yorkshire have adopted it as a term of self-reference.

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(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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