over the top

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

Read More

(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.

Read More

contredanse

  plate 19: La Trénis, Contredanse source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France from the 1931 reprint of the caricatures published under the title of Le Bon Genre (1827 edition), including Observations sur les modes et les usages de Paris; the following comment about La Trénis accompanies this plate: (Année 1805.) Cette danse porte le […]

Read More

toot sweet

    The adverb toot sweet means straight away, immediately. Humorously after the English words toot and sweet, it represents an anglicised pronunciation of the synonymous French adverb tout de suite. Before the First World War, it was only used in representations of French speech. For example, an article titled Galloglossia, published in Sharpe’s London Magazine […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

origin of ‘quiz’

Originally students’ slang, ‘quiz’ is from Latin ‘quis’, meaning ‘who’, as used by the Roman poet Horace in “vir bonus est quis?”, “who is a good man?”

Read More

cat-o’-nine-tails

  cat-o’-nine-tails (1866-79) – photograph: National Maritime Museum     The noun cat-o’-nine-tails denotes a rope whip with nine knotted cords, formerly used, especially at sea, to flog offenders. This instrument of punishment was authorised in the British navy and army until 1881. The word is first recorded in Love for love (London, 1695), a comedy […]

Read More

no room to swing a cat

  Q. Once hairy scenter did transgress,      Whose dame, both powerful and fierce,      Tho’ hairy scenter took delight      To do the thing both fair and right,      Upon a Sabbath day. A. An old Woman whipping her Cat for Catching Mice on a Sunday. from The True Trial […]

Read More

show a leg

  HOW A SAILOR BEGINS HIS DAY’S WORK A Scene on board H.M.S. “Trafalgar.” The boatswain blows his whistle at 5 o’clock in the morning and cries, “All hands.” Diving in and out beneath the hammocks he goes with bent head calling the same old cry of Nelson’s day: “Rise and shine. Show a leg—show […]

Read More