‘useful idiot’: meaning and origin

UK, 1864: a naive person who can be manipulated to advance a political agenda—USA, 1948 (1946 as ‘useful innocent’): with reference to a communist strategy designed to gain political power

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‘funny bone’: meaning and origin

UK, 1826—a place behind the bony point of the elbow at which a knock results in a sensation of tingling pain—in early use was perhaps partly punning on the homophones ‘humerus’ and ‘humorous’

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‘the eighth wonder of the world’: meaning and origin

1613—used hyperbolically of any impressive object, etc.—also applied ironically to a self-satisfied or arrogant person—refers to the seven wonders of the world, i.e., the seven most spectacular man-made structures of the ancient world

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‘in a cleft stick’: meaning and origin

UK, 1710—in a situation in which any action one takes will have adverse consequences—‘cleft’, past participle of the verb ‘cleave’, means ‘split in two to a certain depth’—the image is of one being squeezed between the stick’s prongs

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‘a load of cobblers’: meaning and origin

UK, 1955—‘cobblers’, short for ‘cobbler’s (or cobblers’) awls’, is rhyming slang for ‘balls’, i.e., ‘testicles’, and figuratively ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’

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‘chain-smoker’: meaning and origin

1885—a person who smokes continually, typically by lighting a cigarette from the stub of the last one smoked—loan translation from German ‘Kettenraucher’—originally referred to Otto von Bismarck

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‘square eyes’ | ‘square-eyed’

‘square eyes’ 1955: eyes fancifully imagined as made square by habitual or excessive television viewing; a person characterised as watching too much television—‘square-eyed’ 1953: affected by, or given to, excessive viewing of television

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