‘to judge a book by its cover’: meaning and origin

USA, 1837—to make assumptions about someone or something based on appearance or on superficial characteristics—the metaphor occurs in the preface to ‘Truth in Fiction: Or, Morality in Masquerade. A Collection of Two hundred twenty five Select Fables of Æsop, and other Authors’ (London, 1708), by Edmund Arwaker

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‘bread-artist’: meaning and origin

an artist or writer who produces what is considered to be inferior work simply to earn a living—loan translation from German ‘Brotkünstler’—first used in 1827 by Scottish historian and political philosopher Thomas Carlyle in a text about German literature

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‘to break a butterfly on a wheel’: meaning and origin

to use unnecessary force in destroying something fragile—alludes to a wheel used as an instrument of torture—first occurs in An Epistle from Mr. Pope, to Dr. Arbuthnot (1734), by the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who perhaps coined this phrase

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‘to be a box of birds’: meaning and origin

Australia and New Zealand, 1939—to be in good spirits, ‘chirpy’—the image is of a boxful of chirping birds (cf. the extended form ‘happy as a bird in a box of birdseed’)—New-Zealand variant ‘to be a box of fluffy ducks’, also ‘to be a box of fluffies’

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‘green thumb’: meaning and origin

British, 1907—denotes considerable talent or ability to grow plants—in this phrase, the adjective ‘green’ refers to the colour of growing vegetation—1921: ‘green-thumbed’ (adjective)

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‘green fingers’: meaning and origin

British, 1906—denotes considerable talent or ability to grow plants—in this phrase, the adjective ‘green’ refers to the colour of growing vegetation—1914: ‘green-fingered’ (adjective)

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‘to trail one’s coat’: meaning and origin

UK, 1837—to go out of one’s way to start a quarrel or a fight—refers to the Irish practice of dragging one’s coat behind one in the expectation that somebody will, intentionally or unintentionally, step on it and provide the pretext needed for a quarrel or a fight

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