an inquiry into the various meanings of ‘green man’

three meanings: 1/ in outdoor pageants: a man dressed in greenery, representing a wild man of the woods—2/ in inn names and signs: a forester—3/ in medieval English churches: a representation of a man’s face composed of, surrounded by, or sprouting foliage or branches

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origin of ‘Brownie’ (Girl Scout or Girl Guide)

1916—from ‘brownie’, i.e. a benevolent elf that supposedly haunts houses and does housework secretly—not from the fact that the uniform of the junior Girl Scouts and Girl Guides is brown

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a U.S. political term of the 1920s: ‘backroom boys’

The phrase ‘boys in the backroom’, or ‘backroom boys’, appeared in the 1920s as a U.S. political term denoting persons exercising a surreptitious influence. The Oxford English Dictionary is therefore mistaken in saying that it originally denoted, in 1941, persons engaged in research.

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‘better red than dead’ – ‘better dead than red’

During the Cold War, especially in the context of a possible nuclear war, ‘better red than dead’ was used to warn against uncompromising opposition to communism, while ‘better dead than red’ was used to express unconditional opposition to communism.

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meaning and origin of ‘reds under the bed’

‘Reds under the bed’ and variants denoted an exaggerated or obsessive fear of the presence and harmful influence of communist sympathisers in a particular society, institution, etc. The earliest instance that I have found is from the Chicago Tribune of 28th September 1924.

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original meaning of ‘blue sky and hot air’

U.S., 1903—originally used in the sense of ‘impractical scheme based on empty talk’, the element ‘blue sky’ meaning ‘unrealistic project’, and ‘hot air’ meaning ‘insubstantial claims’

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How ‘blue Monday’ came to denote a gloomy Monday.

A calque of German ‘blauer Montag’, ‘blue Monday’ originally denoted a Monday on which people chose not to work as a result of excessive indulgence over the course of the weekend. Under the influence of the adjective ‘blue’ in the sense ‘dismal’, it came to denote a Monday that is depressing or trying.

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origin of ‘red tape’ (obstructive official rules)

The noun red tape, meaning excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities, refers to the use of woven red tape to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers; the literal meaning is first recorded in 1658, the figurative meaning in 1736.

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