“the cat’s whiskers”, and all that jazz

  Eastern Vaudeville Bans Unseemly Slang A general order has been sent out from the Keith office to all Keith, Moss and Proctor vaudeville houses, instructing resident managers to hereafter bar the use by artists of the current slang phrases, “That’s the Cat’s Meow,” “Cat’s Pajamas,” “Hot Dog,” “Hot Cat,” etc. This means the phrases […]

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to have a frog in one’s throat

  FROG IN YOUR THROAT. 7½d. An instantaneous remedy for “Laryngeal” and “Bronchial Inflammation,” “Tickling,” “Clergymens’ [sic] Sore Throat,” “Smokers’ Sore Throat,” Soreness resulting from dryness of the throat and air passages, or from “clearing the throat.” They afford greater relief than anything hitherto known. Especially useful to Singers, Speakers, Readers, Actors, Teachers, and all […]

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to look like something the cat has brought in

  Of American-English origin, the phrase to look, or to feel, like something the cat has brought in means to look, or to feel, exhausted or bedraggled. The earliest instances of the form, if not of the phrase, that I have found are in, and as the title of, a story published in The Perrysburg Journal (Perrysburg, Ohio) of 2nd February 1877 […]

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cheese – fromage

    “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux-cent quarante-six variétés de fromage ?” (“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”) attributed to Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), French general and statesman, in Les mots du général de Gaulle (1962), by Ernest Mignon photograph: fémivin.com     […]

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the nonsensical origin of ‘Kilkenny cats’

‘To fight like Kilkenny cats’ means ‘to engage in a mutually destructive struggle’.—from the tale of two cats fighting until only their tails remained (early 19th century), which was originally meant to be nothing but amusing nonsense.

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to buy a pig in a poke

  In this expression, the noun poke denotes a bag, a small sack. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old Northern French forms such as poke and pouque, variants of the Old French forms poche and pouche — the last of which is the origin of English pouch. (Incidentally, English pocket is from Anglo-Norman poket, pokete, diminutive forms of poke.) The expression to buy a pig in a poke simply cautions against buying or accepting […]

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to let the cat out of the bag

    MEANING   to let the cat out of the bag: to disclose a secret   ORIGIN   Although it is possible that to let the cat out of the bag originally referred to some specific allusion, such as a line in a play, that has now been lost, it is probable that this phrase is […]

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the Cat-and-Mouse Act

  the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 – image: www.parliament.uk   The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 was rushed through Parliament by Herbert Henry Asquith’s Liberal government in order to deal with the problem of hunger-striking suffragettes, who were force-fed, which led to a public outcry. The Act allowed for the […]

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a cat may look at a king

  Executioner argues with King about cutting off Cheshire Cat’s head – illustration by John Tenniel (1820-1914) for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from.     The phrase a cat may look at a king means even a person of low […]

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to see which way the cat jumps

  Tip-Cat in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly (1787 edition)     The phrase to see which way the cat jumps means to see what direction events are taking before committing oneself. One of its earliest instances is from The Berkshire Chronicle […]

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