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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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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original meaning of ‘to see the elephant’

U.S.—‘to see the elephant’: to see life, the world or the sights, as of a large city, to gain knowledge by experience. But in 1842, the original meaning of ‘to see the elephant’ was ‘to get sick and tired of something’.

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‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’

In British slang, the noun ‘piss-up’ denotes ‘a heavy drinking bout’, and the phrase ‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’ and variants mean ‘is’, or ‘are’, or ‘am’, ‘incapable of organising the simplest event, task, etc.’—phrase first recorded in 1980.

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The literal meaning of ‘cappuccino’ is ‘Capuchin’.

USA, 1948—espresso coffee mixed with steamed milk—borrowed from Italian ‘cappuccino’, literally ‘Capuchin’, because the colour of this type of coffee resembles that of a Capuchin’s habit—cf. French ‘capucin’ (= ‘Capuchin’), a name for the hare, from the colour of the animal’s fur

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the British phrase ‘to go for a burton’

to meet with disaster; to be ruined, destroyed or killed—UK, 1941, RAF slang: (of an airman) to be killed—perhaps from ‘to go for a drink (of Burton ale)’

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origin of ‘good wine needs no bush’

first recorded in ‘As You Like It’, by Shakespeare—from the former practice of hanging a branch or bunch of ivy as a vintner’s sign in front of a tavern

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