to leave no stone unturned

  photograph: pixabay     The phrase to leave no stone unturned means to try every possible course of action in order to achieve something. (The equivalent French phrase has a cosmic dimension since it is remuer ciel et terre, literally, to move heaven and earth.) The image of turning every stone was already proverbial […]

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sandwich

Dr Daniel Solander, Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Dr John Hawkesworth and Lord Sandwich (circa 1771), by John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-79) In 1778, in honour of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, Captain James Cook named Sandwich Islands the islands now known as Hawaiian Islands. (Cook named several other islands after Montagu; for example, present-day […]

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to steal someone’s thunder

  photograph: pixabay     The phrase to steal someone’s thunder means: to use the ideas, policies, etc., devised by another person, political party, etc., for one’s own advantage or to anticipate their use by the originator. It is said to have originated in an exclamation by the English critic and ineffective playwright John Dennis […]

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thinking cap

  The term thinking cap denotes an imaginary cap humorously said to be worn in order to facilitate thinking. The earliest instance that I have found is from the Western Carolinian (Salisbury, North Carolina) of 16th October 1821: We advise the editor to put his thinking-cap on, before he hazards another such assertion. The term also […]

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to cock a snook

  illustration by the Danish artist Thomas Vilhelm Pedersen (1820-59)   The literal sense of to cock a snook is to make a rude gesture by putting one thumb to the nose with the fingers of the hand outstretched. Its figurative meaning is to show contempt by being insulting or offensive. Here, to cock means […]

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to knock into a cocked hat

    In the USA, cocked hat denoted a game similar to ninepins, except that only three pins were set up, in triangular position. It took its name from cocked hat in the sense of a hat with the brim permanently turned up (i.e. cocked), especially the three-cornered hat of this shape worn at the end […]

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cock-and-bull story

Democritus Junior (Robert Burton) from the frontispiece to the 1628 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy     The phrase cock-and-bull story denotes an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. The French expression sauter du coq à l’âne, literally to jump from the cock to the (male) ass, means to skip from one subject to another, the […]

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keep your shirt on

Keep your shirt on In every girl’s way of living there are moments when she forgets the formality of dressing up and returns to the well-seasoned, any season look of a shirt. Cooler than a sweater and without the interruption of frills. Elizabeth Dickson earmarks the shirt born to the manner of classical elegance. advertisement […]

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dressed to the nines

  We’ll show her dressed to the nines, posing with a tribe of gypsies in the Pyrenees illustration by Steven Spurrier for The Vanishing Star. A Comedy of Love and Strategy in Hollywood, by Reita Weiman, published in Britannia and Eve (London) of December 1932     The phrase dressed to the nines means dressed […]

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jolly hockey stick(s)

BETHNAL GREEN MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 (980 2415). Sat-Thurs 10am-6pm, Sun 2.30-6pm. Jolly Hockey Sticks. Schoolgirls through the eyes of Angela Brazil¹ & others. May 30-Sept 30. from The Illustrated London News – May 1984 (¹ Angela Brazil (1868-1947), British author of schoolgirls’ stories)     The exclamation jolly hockey stick(s) is […]

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