‘chicken-and-egg’: meaning and origin

USA, 1855—used of a situation in which it is difficult to distinguish cause and effect—refers to the traditional problem of which came first, the chicken (to lay the egg) or the egg (to produce the chicken)

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‘to chase the dragon’: meaning and origin

to take heroin by heating it and inhaling the fumes, which form a pattern resembling the tail of a dragon—originated in Hong Kong in the 1950s as a translation of Cantonese slang ‘chui lung’, ‘dragon chasing’

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‘to have both oars in the water’: meaning and origin

USA, 1977—to be mentally stable—usually depreciatively in negative contexts, as ‘not to have both oars in the water’—refers to the necessity of dipping both the oars into the water to keep a rowing boat steady and steer it in a straight line

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‘backronym’: meaning and early occurrences

USA, 1983—an acronym deliberately formed from a phrase whose initial letters spell out a particular word or words, either to enhance memorability or as a fanciful explanation of a word’s origin—blend of the adjective ‘back’ and of the noun ‘acronym’

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‘zero tolerance’: meanings and early occurrences

USA—1940: a policy of non-acceptance with regard to a specified situation, activity, result, substance, etc.—1971: a policy of non-acceptance with regard to abusive, anti-social or criminal behaviour, especially the use of illegal drugs

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‘Queensberry rules’: meanings and origin

UK, 1872—the standard rules of boxing— figuratively: the standard rules of polite or acceptable behaviour—named after John Sholto Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry, who supervised the preparation of the rules of boxing

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notes on the phrase ‘lorem ipsum’

a sample text beginning with ‘lorem ipsum’, based on jumbled elements from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum—‘lorem ipsum’: arbitrary clipping of the first syllable of ‘dolorem ipsum’ in Cicero’s text

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‘to cross the floor’: meanings and origin

UK, 1822—of a member of parliament: to join the party opposed to one’s present party—also to vote against one’s own party; to change sides on an issue—from the practice whereby a member of parliament literally crosses the floor to join another party

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