meanings and origin of ‘loco-foco’

US, 1830s—a friction match; a radical faction of the Democratic Party—during a meeting, they lit candles with loco-foco matches when the lights were turned off

Read More

origin of ‘Froggy’ (French)

mid-19th cent.—perhaps from a specific application of the general term of abuse ‘Frog’, aided by the shared initial consonant cluster in ‘French’ and ‘frog’

Read More

betwixt and between

‘betwixt and between’, late 18th century—not fully or properly either of two things, in an intermediate or middling position

Read More

origin of ‘castles in Spain’

In French medieval chansons de geste ‘castles in Spain’ denoted fiefs that had to be conquered from the Saracens by the knights to whom they had been granted.

Read More

carrot and stick

early 20th century—refers to the method of tempting a donkey to move forward by dangling a carrot before it, and beating it with a stick if it refuses

Read More

origin of ‘out of the blue’

from ‘a bolt out of the blue’, denoting a sudden and unexpected event, with reference to the unlikelihood of a thunderbolt coming from a clear blue sky

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘red herring’

Red herring, used in laying trails for hounds to follow, was misunderstood as a deliberate attempt to distract them, hence the figurative use of ‘red herring’.

Read More

origin of ‘gas and gaiters’

coined by Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby (1839) in a comic passage in which an insane speaker makes a series of nonsensical statements

Read More

owlhoot

Coined after ‘cock-crow’, ‘owl-hoot’ means ‘dusk’. It denotes ‘an outlaw’ in Wild West fiction, hence, generally, ‘a worthless or contemptible person’.

Read More