‘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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‘can a moose crochet?’: meaning and origin

USA, 1967—emphatic negative phrase meaning ‘well, hardly’ or ‘no, that’s impossible’—used as the title of a jazz piece composed by Johnny Hodges—said to be a folk phrase that he had heard “out West”

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‘Malley’s cow’: meaning and origin

Australia, 1951—used of someone who has departed and left no indication of their present whereabouts—purportedly from the story of one Malley, who was told by his boss to hold a cow; on the boss’s return, the cow had disappeared, and Malley said “She’s a goner!”

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‘(as) fit as a mallee bull’: meaning and origin

Australia, 1960—very fit and well, in robust health—the image is of a bull strengthened by his living in one of the semi-desert areas of Australia in which the principal vegetation is mallee, i.e., low-growing bushy eucalyptus

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‘a fox in a forest fire’: meanings and origin

USA, 1931—originated in sporting parlance—emphasises the meaning of the adjective it immediately follows—that adjective usually is ‘hot’ (used literally or figuratively) or describes agitation, erraticism

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