meaning and origin of ‘to turn up one’s toes’

The phrase ‘to turn up one’s toes’, meaning ‘to die’, might have originated in the Irish-English phrase ‘to turn up one’s toes to the roots of the daisies’, first found in the passive form ‘with one’s toes turned up to the roots of the daisies’, meaning ‘lying dead’.

Read More

original meaning of ‘to see the elephant’

U.S.—‘to see the elephant’: to see life, the world or the sights, as of a large city, to gain knowledge by experience. But in 1842, the original meaning of ‘to see the elephant’ was ‘to get sick and tired of something’.

Read More

‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’

In British slang, the noun ‘piss-up’ denotes ‘a heavy drinking bout’, and the phrase ‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’ and variants mean ‘is’, or ‘are’, or ‘am’, ‘incapable of organising the simplest event, task, etc.’—phrase first recorded in 1980.

Read More

origin of ‘fat cat’ (wealthy and powerful person)

Of American-English origin, the slang term fat cat denotes a wealthy, influential person, especially one who is a heavy contributor to a political party or campaign. The earliest occurrence that I have found is from an article published in The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) of 1 November 1925.

Read More

origin of ‘red tape’ (obstructive official rules)

The noun red tape, meaning excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities, refers to the use of woven red tape to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers; the literal meaning is first recorded in 1658, the figurative meaning in 1736.

Read More

‘To go to pot’ was originally a ‘culinary’ phrase.

The phrase ‘to go to pot’ means ‘to be ruined or destroyed’, ‘to go to pieces’, ‘to deteriorate through neglect’. The allusion is to the cutting up of meat into pieces ready for the cooking-pot, as several 16th-century texts make clear.

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘violon d’Ingres’

First recorded in The Bystander (London) on 24 January 1906, this French phrase means ‘hobby, pastime’; it refers to the passion that the French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) had for playing the violin.

Read More

British and French Twelfth-Day traditions

Twelfth Day denotes the twelfth day after Christmas, i.e. 6th January, on which the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated, and which was formerly observed as the closing day of the Christmas festivities. (Epiphany denotes the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi; via Old-French and Anglo-Norman forms such as epyphane (Modern […]

Read More

‘Zeppelins in a cloud’ (‘sausage and mash’)

early 20th century—‘Zeppelins in a cloud’ and variants mean ‘sausage and mash’—during World War One, the phrase was used as a manner of disregarding the fear caused by the bombing raids carried out by Zeppelin airships

Read More