meaning and origin of ‘red in tooth and claw’

UK, 1857—characterised by savage violence or merciless competition—from Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘In Memoriam’ (1850), in which ‘red in tooth and claw’ refers to Nature’s brutality

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the probable origin of ‘monkey business’

UK, 1835—mischievous or deceitful behaviour—alludes to the proverbial playfulness of monkeys—probably modelled on Bengali ‘bãdrāmi’; cf. modern Sanskrit ‘vānara-karman’, from ‘vānara’ (monkey) and ‘karman’ (action, work, employment)

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origin and appearance of ‘ailurophile’ (cat lover)

USA, 1914—‘ailurophile’: a cat lover—‘ailurophobe’: opposite sense—based on ancient Greek ‘aílouros’, ‘cat’, perhaps from ‘aiόlos’, ‘swift’, and ‘ourá’, ‘tail’, the cat being perhaps so called on account of the swift movement to and fro of its tail

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the Shakespearean origin of ‘to flutter the dovecotes’

UK, 1831—to startle or upset a sedate or conventionally-minded community—most probably from the following lines in The Tragedy of Coriolanus (circa 1607), by William Shakespeare: “like an eagle in a dove-cote, I | Flutter’d your Volscians in Corioli”

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meaning and origin of ‘like a blue-arsed fly’

British English, armed forces, 1936—With reference to the bluebottle fly, the colloquial phrase ‘like a blue-arsed fly’ is used to describe someone engaged in constant, frantic activity or movement.

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origin of ‘to crawl out of the woodwork’

USA, 1930—‘to crawl, or to come, out of the woodwork’: of an unpleasant or unwelcome person or thing, to come out of hiding, to emerge from obscurity; the image is of vermin or insects crawling out of crevices or other hidden places in a building

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origin of ‘to eat crow’ (to suffer humiliation)

U.S., second half 19th century—from the story (1850) of a man who, having declared that he could eat anything, was challenged to eat crow; the crow he had to eat was seasoned with snuff, so that the man gave up after one bite, saying “I can eat crow, but I’ll be darned if I hanker after it.”

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meaning and origin of ‘canary in the coal mine’

USA, 1964—‘canary in the coal mine’: an early indicator of potential danger or failure—from the former practice of taking live canaries into coal mines to test for the presence of toxic gases, the illness or death of the canaries serving as an indication that such gases were present

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the history of ‘burnsides’, ‘sideburns’ and ‘sideboards’

After Ambrose Burnside, Union general in the U.S. Civil War, ‘burnsides’ (1866) denotes thick side whiskers worn with a moustache and clean-shaven chin; on the pattern of ‘side whiskers’, it was altered to ‘sideburns’ (1875), itself altered to ‘sideboards’ (1882).

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