look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves

This proverb is first recorded in the mid-18th century as ‘take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves’ in letters that two fathers wrote to their respective children; so new was the adage that they attributed its coinage to various persons.

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How ‘magazine’ came to denote a periodical publication.

‘Magazine’ (= ‘storehouse’) came to denote a book providing information on a specified subject (17th c.). This gave rise to the sense ‘periodical magazine (= ‘repository’) of the most interesting pieces of information published in the newspapers’ (18th c.).

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‘happy-clappy’ (cheerful and hand-clapping)

‘happy-clappy’: a member of a Christian group whose worship is marked by enthusiastic participation; composed of ‘happy’ and of the noun ‘clap’ suffixed with ‘-y’—with allusion to the cheerful singing and hand-clapping regarded as typical of charismatic religious services

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meaning and origin of ‘to turn up one’s toes’

The phrase ‘to turn up one’s toes’, meaning ‘to die’, might have originated in the Irish-English phrase ‘to turn up one’s toes to the roots of the daisies’, first found in the passive form ‘with one’s toes turned up to the roots of the daisies’, meaning ‘lying dead’.

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‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’

In British slang, the noun ‘piss-up’ denotes ‘a heavy drinking bout’, and the phrase ‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’ and variants mean ‘is’, or ‘are’, or ‘am’, ‘incapable of organising the simplest event, task, etc.’—phrase first recorded in 1980.

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origin of ‘red tape’ (obstructive official rules)

The noun red tape, meaning excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities, refers to the use of woven red tape to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers; the literal meaning is first recorded in 1658, the figurative meaning in 1736.

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British origin of Gotham, nickname for New York City

Many centuries before becoming a nickname for New York City and the name of a fictional city associated with the Batman stories, Gotham was used in Britain as the name of a (probably fictional) village proverbial for the folly of its inhabitants.

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‘To go to pot’ was originally a ‘culinary’ phrase.

The phrase ‘to go to pot’ means ‘to be ruined or destroyed’, ‘to go to pieces’, ‘to deteriorate through neglect’. The allusion is to the cutting up of meat into pieces ready for the cooking-pot, as several 16th-century texts make clear.

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British and French Twelfth-Day traditions

Twelfth Day denotes the twelfth day after Christmas, i.e. 6th January, on which the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated, and which was formerly observed as the closing day of the Christmas festivities. (Epiphany denotes the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi; via Old-French and Anglo-Norman forms such as epyphane (Modern […]

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