origin of ‘neither fish nor fowl’

Origin: for purposes of fasting, food was divided into categories – ‘fish’, the flesh of fish, ‘flesh’, the flesh of land-animals, ‘fowl’, the flesh of birds.

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origin of ‘to cut a caper’

‘caper’: probably abbreviation of ‘cabriole’, from Italian ‘capriola’, literally ‘female roe deer’, from Latin ‘capreola’, ‘wild goat’, from ‘capra’, she-goat

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origin of ‘castles in Spain’

In French medieval chansons de geste ‘castles in Spain’ denoted fiefs that had to be conquered from the Saracens by the knights to whom they had been granted.

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to set the Thames on fire

from the image of an impossible task, ‘to set the Thames on fire’: to work wonders — typically used negatively in the ironic sense never to distinguish oneself

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meaning and origin of ‘Box and Cox’

from the name of an 1847 farce in which a landlady lets out, unbeknown to them, the same room to two tenants, Box and Cox, the one by day, the other by night

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let the cobbler stick to his last

‘Let the cobbler stick to his last’ goes back to Pliny’s story of the Greek artist Apelles answering a cobbler who had criticised one of his paintings.

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origin of ‘madeleine’

‘madeleine’: originally ‘gâteau à la Madeleine’ (late 18th cent.), perhaps named after French cook Madeleine Paumier – refers also to Swann’s Way, by Proust

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origin of ‘maudlin’

‘maudlin’: tearfully sentimental – from the Middle-English name ‘Maudelen’, designating Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus, customarily represented as weeping

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meaning and origin of ‘red herring’

Red herring, used in laying trails for hounds to follow, was misunderstood as a deliberate attempt to distract them, hence the figurative use of ‘red herring’.

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