over the top

‘Over the top’, which means ‘excessive’, originated as a WWI expression meaning ‘over the parapet of a trench and into battle’.

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(with) tongue in cheek

The phrase ‘(with) tongue in cheek’ originally referred to a sign of contempt or derision consisting in sticking one’s tongue in one’s cheek.

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Galloglossia

  John Bull taking a Luncheon:—or—British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chère. hand-coloured etching by James Gillray, published on 24th October 1798 — © Trustees of the British Museum This print was published just after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile. He is shown in the forefront of British admirals and naval heroes, serving up […]

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ordeal

  L’épreuve du feu (l’inquisition) by Devritz (painter) and Leroy (engraver) – date unknown source: BIU Santé     The original meaning of the noun ordeal, from Old English ordāl, ordēl, is: an ancient test of guilt or innocence by subjection of the accused to severe pain, survival of which was taken as divine proof […]

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old chestnut – marronnier

    photograph: Alba Trees     The term old chestnut denotes a joke, story or subject that has become tedious and uninteresting through constant repetition. Here, the adjective old is simply an intensifier of the noun. The figurative use of chestnut originated in American-English theatrical slang. Diary of a Daly Débutante: being passages from the […]

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deadline

  the prison-pen at Millen This pen was built of large logs driven in the ground, with sentry posts on the top, at short intervals. No shelter whatsoever was afforded the prisoners, and they were compelled to burrow in the earth, to avoid the scorching sun or the biting frost, for their captors robbed them […]

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cut and dried

  It is a circumstance rather remarkable, that the answer to Sir George Rodney’s summons of surrender, given by the respective Dutch Governours of the Islands of St. Eustatius and St. Martin’s, should be couched exactly in the same form of words without the smallest variation; from this we are either to suppose, that the […]

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to eat humble pie

  A puzzle published in The Hibernian Magazine, or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge (Dublin, Ireland) in 1774 punned on the humble of humble pie, which may indicate that the latter term was already used figuratively at that time. The following is from the October issue:                     […]

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milquetoast

  NO USE DENYING IT – I’M A FLAT FAILURE. EVERYTHING I’VE TRIED HAS FAILED! I OUGHT TO BLOW MY BRAINS OUT POOR OL’ BOY! I FEEL SORRY FOR ’IM YEP, I GUESS HE’S THROUGH THAT NIGHT TELEGRAPH OFFICE? I WANT TO SEND A WIRE TO STATION B-L-A-H, 164 BLANK ST. – YOUR CONCERT COMING […]

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MAMIL

  photograph from When exercise is dangerous: Endurance races risky for group sometimes called ‘middle-aged men in Lycra’ – the Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) – 17th July 2013     The word MAMIL is an acronym from the initial letters of middle-aged man in Lycra, probably punningly after mammal. Humorous and somewhat depreciative, it denotes a middle-aged […]

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