to set the Thames on fire

from the image of an impossible task, ‘to set the Thames on fire’: to work wonders — typically used negatively in the ironic sense never to distinguish oneself

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meanings and origin of ‘Maundy’

originally the washing of poor persons’ feet – from ‘mandatum novum’, ‘a new commandment’, in the discourse following Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet

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meaning and origin of ‘Box and Cox’

from the name of an 1847 farce in which a landlady lets out, unbeknown to them, the same room to two tenants, Box and Cox, the one by day, the other by night

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let the cobbler stick to his last

‘Let the cobbler stick to his last’ goes back to Pliny’s story of the Greek artist Apelles answering a cobbler who had criticised one of his paintings.

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origin of ‘madeleine’

‘madeleine’: originally ‘gâteau à la Madeleine’ (late 18th cent.), perhaps named after French cook Madeleine Paumier – refers also to Swann’s Way, by Proust

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origin of ‘maudlin’

‘maudlin’: tearfully sentimental – from the Middle-English name ‘Maudelen’, designating Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus, customarily represented as weeping

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meaning and origin of ‘red herring’

Red herring, used in laying trails for hounds to follow, was misunderstood as a deliberate attempt to distract them, hence the figurative use of ‘red herring’.

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cross my heart (and hope to die)

origin: USA – 2nd half of the 19th century – from the action of making a small sign of the cross over one’s heart, which sometimes accompanies the words

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origin of ‘to go haywire’

From the practice of using hay-baling wire for makeshift repairs, ‘haywire’ came to mean crudely made, improvised, hence disorganised, erratic, crazy.

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