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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mess of pottage

Hungry sheep on holiday need not complain too vigorously that they look up and are not fed. For instance, there is A Mess of Pottage, by Natala de la Fère. Conceive, if you can, the reactions of a highly respectable family of French peasants when, after having enjoyed a tin of soup sent to them […]

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hot mess

  This advertisement for the second season (2014) of comedienne Amy Schumer’s sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, highlighted both the “hot” and “mess” sides of her personality — photograph: Jamey Welch Creative   The primary meanings of the noun mess are a serving of food, a course, a meal, a prepared dish of a specified […]

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smoke and mirrors

  Politicians usually work with blue smoke and mirrors. What appears to be real is mostly an illusion, and what is unlikely turns out to be real. But sometimes, the blue smoke and mirrors don’t work. When you can’t produce a budget, you can’t call a news conference and pretend you did. from The News […]

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fifth column

    The term fifth column, which translates Spanish quinta columna, denotes the enemy’s supporters in one’s own country, or a body of one’s supporters in an attacked or occupied foreign country, hence, more generally, any group of hostile or subversive infiltrators, any enemy in one’s midst. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was the conflict […]

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Simon says

    Of American-English origin, Simon says denotes a children’s game in which players must obey the leader’s instructions only if they are prefaced with the words Simon says; it also denotes the command itself. The name Simon was probably chosen for alliterative effect (Simon says). The earliest instance that I have found is the […]

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to make a hash of something – to settle someone’s hash

    The verb hash, which dates back to the mid-17th century, is from French hacher, meaning to chop, to mince, itself from the feminine noun hache, meaning an axe. (English hatchet is from the diminutive of hache, hachette.) The literal sense of the noun hash is a dish consisting of meat which has been […]

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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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a chip on one’s shoulder

    The phrase a chip on one’s shoulder means a challenging or belligerent attitude. In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explains: There is an unusual degree of unanimity about the provenance of have a chip on one’s shoulder (bear a grudge; behave anti-socially). Unlikely as it may seem, […]

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