‘a sprat to catch a mackerel’: meaning and origin

1747—a small outlay or risk ventured in the hope or expectation of a significant return—a metaphor from fishing, in which sprats are used as bait to catch larger fish—in early use with the words ‘salmon’ and ‘herring’ instead of ‘mackerel’

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‘to make a spoon or spoil a horn’: meaning and origin

Scotland, 1806—to make a determined effort to achieve something, whether ending in success or failure—refers to the making of spoons out of the horns of cattle or sheep, which was common in Scotland till late in the 19th century

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‘beetle-crusher’: meaning and origin

denotes a foot or a boot, especially a big one—1856, in the caption to a cartoon by John Leech, published in Punch (London, England): “A vulgar and disgusting expression, implying that a foot is big enough, and flat enough, to kill Black-beetles”

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‘savoury duck’: meaning and origin

Lancashire, England, 1833—a faggot, a meatball, “a compound of onions, flour, and small pieces of pork” (The Liverpool Echo, 20 August 1880)—probably one of the common dishes humorously named after daintier items of food

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‘bullamacow’: meanings and origin

islands of the South Pacific, 1881—cattle, beef, and, by extension, meat of any kind and tinned meat—a combination of the nouns ‘bull’ and ‘cow’

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‘where the bugs wear clogs’: meanings and origin

Liverpool, England—(1957) an insalubrious place—(1961) the neighbouring town of Bootle regarded as a rough area—said to refer to the Knowsley’s Bug Circus of Bootle, which featured clog-shod, chain-smoking performing bugs

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‘morning, noon and night’: meaning and early occurrences

UK, 1741—all day, incessantly—also, in early use, ‘morn, noon and night’—different from the juxtaposition of the nouns ‘morning’, ‘noon’ and ‘night’, which refers to an action taking place first in the morning, then at noon, and finally at night

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‘boustrophedon’: meaning and origin

1762—(especially of an ancient style of writing): having alternate lines written from left to right and from right to left—from the Greek adverb ‘βουστροφηδόν’, meaning literally ‘as an ox turns (in ploughing)’, with allusion to the course of the plough in successive furrows

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‘worm’s-eye view’: meaning and origin

USA, 1898—a view as seen from below or from a humble position—refers to a view taken as from the standpoint of a worm, i.e. from ground-level—coined after ‘bird’s-eye view’ (1782), denoting a view of a landscape from above, such as is presented to the eye of a bird

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