‘even a stopped clock is right twice a day’

UK, 1711—means that anyone can be right occasionally, if only by chance—often used specifically to suggest that one holding a fixed belief regardless of changing circumstances will occasionally, if rarely, be correct

Read More

‘to have two left feet’ and synonymous phrases

‘to have two left feet’: to be clumsy or awkward—postdates synonymous ‘to have two left hands’ (1815), loan translation of French ‘avoir deux mains gauches’—‘left’ has long been associated with inferior performance, awkwardness and insincerity

Read More

history of ‘piece of work’ (unpleasant person)

literal meaning, 1473: something produced or manufactured—1534: an arduous task—1810: a commotion, a fuss—1623: ‘a filthy piece of work’ is applied to a person in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens

Read More

‘pumpkinification’: meanings and origin

UK, 1849—transformation into a pumpkin; extravagant or absurdly uncritical glorification—coined after Hellenistic Greek ‘ἀποκολοκύντωσις’, the title of a travesty ascribed to Seneca, according to which the deceased Roman emperor Claudius, instead of being elevated to divine status, is changed into a pumpkin

Read More

‘the eighth wonder of the world’: meaning and origin

1613—used hyperbolically of any impressive object, etc.—also applied ironically to a self-satisfied or arrogant person—refers to the seven wonders of the world, i.e., the seven most spectacular man-made structures of the ancient world

Read More

‘in a cleft stick’: meaning and origin

UK, 1710—in a situation in which any action one takes will have adverse consequences—‘cleft’, past participle of the verb ‘cleave’, means ‘split in two to a certain depth’—the image is of one being squeezed between the stick’s prongs

Read More