to chance one’s arm

    The informal British phrase to chance one’s arm means to undertake something although it may be dangerous or unsuccessful. Its origin is unclear. The earliest use that I have found is from How our blue-jackets are fed, an article about the “diet of the British sailor at sea” published in The Weekly Telegraph […]

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to break one’s duck

    The professional bowler welcoming the new-comer. illustration for Very Hard Cash (New York, 1864), by Charles Reade     In cricket, from the resemblance between the figure 0 and a duck’s egg, the term duck’s egg denotes the zero (i.e. 0) placed against a batsman’s name in the scoring sheet when he fails […]

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not to give a tinker’s damn

  The phrase not to give, care or be worth a tinker¹’s curse, cuss² or damn (or elliptically a tinker’s) is an intensification of not to give, care or be worth a curse, cuss or damn, with reference to the bad language reputedly used by tinkers. The low repute in which tinkers were held is also […]

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Hogs Norton

Light Programme 12.0, Family Favourites; 1.30, Mr. Gillie Potter, Sage of Hogsnorton from B.B.C. Sunday – The Derry Journal (Ireland) – 28th March 1952     The name Hogs Norton, also Hog’s Norton and Hogsnorton, denotes a fictional town renowned for its uncultured and boorish inhabitants. It has often been used in depreciative phrases suggesting that […]

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sandwich

Dr Daniel Solander, Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Dr John Hawkesworth and Lord Sandwich (circa 1771), by John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-79) In 1778, in honour of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, Captain James Cook named Sandwich Islands the islands now known as Hawaiian Islands. (Cook named several other islands after Montagu; for example, present-day […]

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jolly hockey stick(s)

BETHNAL GREEN MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 (980 2415). Sat-Thurs 10am-6pm, Sun 2.30-6pm. Jolly Hockey Sticks. Schoolgirls through the eyes of Angela Brazil¹ & others. May 30-Sept 30. from The Illustrated London News – May 1984 (¹ Angela Brazil (1868-1947), British author of schoolgirls’ stories)     The exclamation jolly hockey stick(s) is […]

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red top

  three red tops: the Daily Mirror, The Sun, the Daily Star     In the following, the noun tabloid has the sense of a newspaper having pages half the size of those of the average broadsheet, aimed at the mass market, with relatively little serious political or economic content but considerable amounts of sport, celebrity gossip, scandal and trivial […]

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the toast of the town

  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Kats – illustration from Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places (1873), by Walter Thornbury (The Kit-Cat, or Kit-Kat, Club in London was a club of Whig politicians and men of letters founded in the reign (1685-8) of James II; its […]

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to have a frog in one’s throat

  FROG IN YOUR THROAT. 7½d. An instantaneous remedy for “Laryngeal” and “Bronchial Inflammation,” “Tickling,” “Clergymens’ [sic] Sore Throat,” “Smokers’ Sore Throat,” Soreness resulting from dryness of the throat and air passages, or from “clearing the throat.” They afford greater relief than anything hitherto known. Especially useful to Singers, Speakers, Readers, Actors, Teachers, and all […]

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to push up daisies

  photograph: Max Pixel       Several colloquial phrases associate daisies with being dead: under the daisies, which means dead and buried, to push up (the) daisies and to turn one’s toes up to the daisies, which mean to be in one’s grave, to be dead. I have found an early instance of the […]

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