meanings and origin of ‘a far cry’

The phrase ‘a far cry’ means ‘something very different’. Its literal signification (first recorded in A Legend of Montrose (1819), by Walter Scott) is ‘a long way’, ‘a great distance’. Here, the noun ‘cry’ denotes ‘a calling distance’, as in ‘within cry of’, meaning ‘within calling distance of’.

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origin of ‘coward’ and of ‘cowardy, cowardy custard’

‘coward’—from Old-French ‘cuard’, probably referring to a frightened animal with its tail between its legs—from ‘cüe’ (Modern French ‘queue’), ‘tail’, and pejorative suffix ‘-ard’ (cf. ‘bastard’)—‘cowardy, cowardy custard’, alliterative nonsensical children’s phrase (19th century)

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How Thomas Jefferson was berated for coining ‘belittle’.

coined by Thomas Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia, first published in Paris in 1785—literal meaning: ‘to make little’ (composed of the prefix ‘be-’ and the adjective ‘little’)—criticised in The European Magazine, and London Review of August 1787 when the book was published in London

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‘irregardless’: a hyperbolic form of ‘regardless’

UK, 1847—Probably a blend of ‘irrespective’ and ‘regardless’, ‘irregardless’ means the same as ‘regardless’. It is regarded as incorrect in standard English, because the negative prefix ‘ir-’ merely duplicates the suffix ‘-less’, and is therefore unnecessary.

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‘to fall off (the back of) a lorry’ (‘to be stolen’)

UK, 1953, humorous and euphemistic—‘to fall off (the back of) a lorry’: of goods, ‘to be acquired in dubious or unspecified circumstances’, especially ‘to be stolen’—variant with ‘truck’ came into use later in Australian and North American English

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‘to use one’s loaf’ (‘to use one’s common sense’)

First recorded in The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, Yorkshire) of Friday 26 August 1938, the phrase ‘to use one’s loaf’ means ‘to use one’s common sense’. Here, ‘loaf’, a shortening of ‘loaf of bread’, is rhyming slang for ‘head’.

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origin of ‘lock, stock and barrel’ (i.e. ‘completely’)

USA, 1811—based on the three principal components that make up a flintlock gun: ‘lock’ denotes the firing mechanism, ‘stock’ the handle or wooden shoulder-piece to which it is attached, and ‘barrel’ the tube down which the bullet is fired

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origin of ‘bobby’ and ‘peeler’ (‘police officer’)

UK, 1844—‘bobby’: a policeman—from ‘Bobby’, pet form of ‘Robert’, in allusion to Robert Peel, who, as Home Secretary, established the Metropolitan Police in 1829—cf. ‘peeler’ (1816), originally a member of the Peace Preservation Force in Ireland established in 1814 by Robert Peel

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‘handbag’: how Thatcher enriched the English language

‘handbag’: to bully or coerce by subjecting to a forthright verbal assault or criticism—originally used with reference to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Economist (7 August 1982)—from literal meaning ‘to batter or assault with a handbag’

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‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’

first recorded in a speech by Rev. George W. Bethune, transcribed in ‘Brief abstract of the fourth annual report of board of Managers of the New-York city Colonization Society’, published in ‘The American Christian Instructor’ of April 1836

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