origin of ‘to cut both ways’

to serve both sides of an argument; to have both good and bad effects—England, early 18th century—refers to a sword which has two cutting edges

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to lick into shape

This phrase originated in the belief that bear cubs were born formless and had to be licked into shape by their mother.

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another pair of shoes

  Another Pair Of Shoes Shoes are the most important of all accessories, and will make or mar a smart outfit. The group pictured above have crossed the Atlantic, and may be seen at Dolcis, 350, Oxford Street. Starting from the left is a light calf monk shoe with slit punching, a square toe, and […]

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to make (both) ends meet

    To make (both) ends meet means to earn just enough money to live on. It is first recorded in The History of the Worthies of England (1662), by the Church of England clergyman Thomas Fuller (1607/8-61). The author wrote the following about the English Protestant leader Edmund Grindal (1519-83) – in the original […]

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flirt

  photograph: Famille Michaud, beekeepers since 1920     MAIN MEANINGS   – verb: to behave as though sexually attracted to someone, but playfully rather than with serious intentions – noun: a person who acts flirtatiously   ORIGIN   The verb flirt is probably onomatopoeic, the phonetic elements /fl-/ and /-əːt/ both suggesting sudden movement. […]

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picnic

  Blowing up the PIC NIC’s:—or—Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomime (1802), by James Gillray (1756-1815) — image: The British Museum     MEANING   a meal eaten outdoors   ORIGIN   This word is from French pique-nique, probably formed with reduplication from the verb piquer, to pick. (Similarly, pêle-mêle, the origin […]

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the apple of one’s eye – la prunelle de ses yeux

   prunelles – photograph: JP. RING – SFO-PCV (Société Française d’Orchidophilie de Poitou-Charentes et Vendée)   In early use, apple was a general term for all kinds of fruits other than berries, including even nuts. In fact, apple and berry are the only Anglo-Saxon fruit names, the rest being of Latin or ‘exotic’ origin. This […]

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teetotum

L’Enfant au toton (1738), by Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)     The word teetotum, which dates back to the 18th century, denotes a small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the fingers […]

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