31st Mar 2023. Reading time 10 minutes.
a young woman’s collection of clothes and household articles, kept in preparation for her marriage—UK, 1835?—refers to the (notional?) receptacle where those clothes and household articles are supposed to be kept
29th Mar 2023. Reading time 13 minutes.
to undertake a dangerous or hazardous operation or activity—UK, 1867, as ‘to tickle the dragon’s nose’—‘to tickle the dragon’s tail’ was used of a nuclear experiment at Los Alamos during WWII
18th Mar 2023. Reading time 10 minutes.
literally (1618): a blanket dampened with water so as to extinguish a fire—figuratively (1775): a person or thing that has a subduing or inhibiting effect
15th Mar 2023. Reading time 9 minutes.
used conversationally to declare, often ironically, that one shares the opinion, sentiment, predicament, etc., of the previous speaker—USA, early 20th century
14th Mar 2023. Reading time 7 minutes.
real events and situations are often more remarkable or incredible than those made up in fiction—first occurred as ‘truth is always strange, stranger than fiction’ in Don Juan (1823), by George Gordon Byron
13th Mar 2023. Reading time 9 minutes.
to use a lot of swearwords—first used in 1713 by Joseph Addison—alludes to the fact that troopers (i.e., soldiers of low rank in the cavalry) had a reputation for coarse language and behaviour
8th Mar 2023. Reading time 11 minutes.
1750—the non-academic inhabitants (‘town’) of a university city and the resident members of the university (‘gown’, denoting the distinctive costume of a member of a university)
4th Mar 2023. Reading time 14 minutes.
a person or thing that is insignificant or contemptible—1910—originally (1900): a type of small high-velocity shell, with reference to the high-pitched sound of its discharge and flight
24th Feb 2023. Reading time 8 minutes.
scarce; infrequent; difficult to find or to come by—one early use in 1668—but popularised by the Irish author Thomas Campbell in The Pleasures of Hope (1799)
23rd Feb 2023. Reading time 11 minutes.
smartly dressed—from the verb ‘fig out/up’, meaning ‘to smarten up’—this verb is probably an alteration of the verb ‘feague’, of uncertain origin, meaning ‘to make (a horse) lively’