the long history of ‘blues’

‘blues’—from ‘blue’ (‘sorrowful’) and elliptically from ‘blue devils’ (‘depression’)—originally a metaphorical use of ‘blue’ (‘bruised’), as in ‘black and blue’

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origin of ‘out of the blue’

from ‘a bolt out of the blue’, denoting a sudden and unexpected event, with reference to the unlikelihood of a thunderbolt coming from a clear blue sky

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meaning and origin of ‘red herring’

Red herring, used in laying trails for hounds to follow, was misunderstood as a deliberate attempt to distract them, hence the figurative use of ‘red herring’.

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origin of ‘once in a blue moon’

‘Once in a blue moon’ is a development from ‘once in a moon’, meaning ‘once a month’, hence ‘occasionally’—‘blue’ is merely a meaningless fanciful intensive.

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red top

  three red tops: the Daily Mirror, The Sun, the Daily Star     In the following, the noun tabloid has the sense of a newspaper having pages half the size of those of the average broadsheet, aimed at the mass market, with relatively little serious political or economic content but considerable amounts of sport, celebrity gossip, scandal and trivial […]

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Albion

The name Albion did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)   The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, theologian and historian St. Bede (circa 673-735):   […]

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grimalkin

    In The Tragedie of Macbeth (around 1603), by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Gray-Malkin is the name of a fiend in the shape of a grey she-cat, the cat being the form most generally assumed by the familiar spirits of witches according to a common superstition: (Folio 1, 1623)             […]

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to paint the town red

  Spree at Melton Mowbray. Larking at the Grantham Toll-Gate. Or Coming in for the Brush. A Society of Distinguished Painters, Who Hunt with Fox Hounds, Live Splendidly and only Paint at Night. date: unknown – by Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851)     Of American-English origin, the colloquial phrase to paint the town red means to […]

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caviar to the general

  The letter written to his family by the French resistant Yves Daoudal (1891-1944) on 5th April 1944, before he was shot. A passage has been “caviardé”, blue-pencilled. (Photograph: Le Mont-Valérien)     The phrase caviar to the general is used to denote a good thing unappreciated by the ignorant (here, the general refers to the multitude). It is from The Tragicall Historie […]

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corduroy

  photograph: javi.velazquez       MEANING   a heavy cotton pile fabric with lengthways ribs   ORIGIN: UNKNOWN   The original form of this noun, in the late 18th century, was corderoy. The earliest use of the word that I could find is in The Manchester Mercury (Lancashire) of Tuesday 7th April 1772:       […]

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