cock-and-bull story

Democritus Junior (Robert Burton) from the frontispiece to the 1628 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy     The phrase cock-and-bull story denotes an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. The French expression sauter du coq à l’âne, literally to jump from the cock to the (male) ass, means to skip from one subject to another, the […]

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curate’s egg

  The phrase curate’s egg means something that has both good and bad characteristics or parts. It is an allusion to True Humility, a cartoon by George du Maurier*, published in Punch, or the London Charivari of 9th November 1895. This cartoon depicts a meek curate who, having been served a stale egg while breakfasting with his bishop, tries not to offend […]

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valentine

photograph: Hot Rocks     There are two Valentines, both Italian, one a priest and the other a bishop, who were martyred and used to be commemorated in the Roman Catholic calendar on 14th February. However, they have no romantic associations and the modern customs linked with St Valentine’s Day arise from a tradition according to which it is the […]

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Teddy boy

  Grown-up Teddy boys SHOWADDYWADDY, who put fifties rock ’n’ roll and that era’s Teddy Boy look into the seventies pop scene are back on vinyl – and on compact disc too – with a new single, Why, on Tiger Records, and a compilation hits album and cassette, The Best Steps To Heaven. It’s also […]

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gossip

  MEANINGS   – a person who habitually talks about others, especially maliciously – a conversation involving malicious chatter or rumours about other people – casual and idle chat – light easy communication    ORIGIN   This word is from the Old English noun godsibb, composed of god and the adjective sib(b), meaning akin, related (cf. the noun sibling, which is composed of sib and […]

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to amputate one’s mahogany

  cut one’s stick, to be off quickly, i.e., be in readiness for a journey, further elaborated into amputate your mahogany from A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words (2nd edition – 1860), by the English publisher and author John Camden Hotten (1832-73)     The expression to amputate one’s mahogany is a […]

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agony column – agony aunt

    advertisement published in The Times (London) on 18th December 1800: A CARD.—If the Lady who a Gentleman handed into her carriage from Covent Garden Theatre, on Wednesday, the third of this month, will oblige the Advertiser with a line to Z. Z., Spring Garden Coffee House, saying if married or single, she will […]

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rift in the lute

  L’astucieuse Viviane était étendue aux pieds de Merlin, by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) from Les Idylles du roi (Paris – 1868), translation of Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson     The phrase rift in the lute means sign of disharmony between persons, especially the first evidence of a quarrel that may become worse. A rift is a crack in an object, […]

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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 […]

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auld lang syne

  Old Long Syne – broadside ballad (probably 1701)     The Scots lang syne means long since, long ago. Conversely, short syne means a short time ago, recently. Especially in recalling old experiences shared with friends, auld lang syne, literally old long-ago, is used as a noun to mean the years of long ago, old times, memories of the past, and for auld lang syne is used to mean for old times’ […]

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