origin of ‘moonraker’

moonraker: a native of Wiltshire; from the tale that some of them mistook the reflection of the moon in a pond for a cheese and tried to rake it out.

Read More

origin of ‘barmy’ (crazy)

A ‘barmy’ person has a ‘frothy top’, insubstantial brains, from ‘barm’, the froth that forms on the top of fermenting malt liquors.

Read More

hair of the dog

  A Mad Dog in a Coffee House (London, 20th March 1809) by the English caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)     The term hair of the dog denotes an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover. It is a shortening of the phrase hair of the dog that bit you, first recorded in A dialogue […]

Read More

blotto

  advertisement for Blotto brothers’ triporteurs Le Jardin des Modes nouvelles – 15th October 1913       The adjective blotto, which has mainly been used to mean drunk, originated in World War One British military slang. It is first recorded in this sense in the chapter Slang in a War Hospital of Observations of an Orderly: Some Glimpses of […]

Read More

tace is Latin for candle

  The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875), by the French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) – Musée d’Orsay, Paris The officiants have just excommunicated Robert by bell, book, and candle, and left the quenched candle behind. Robert II (972-1031), known as the Pious, the son of Hugues Capet, was excommunicated for incest by Pope Gregory […]

Read More

hot mess

  This advertisement for the second season (2014) of comedienne Amy Schumer’s sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, highlighted both the “hot” and “mess” sides of her personality — photograph: Jamey Welch Creative   The primary meanings of the noun mess are a serving of food, a course, a meal, a prepared dish of a specified […]

Read More

tabloid (1)

  The pharmaceutical firm Burroughs, Wellcome & Company was founded in London in 1880 by the American-born entrepreneurs Silas Burroughs (1846-95) and Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). They registered the name Tabloid (with capital initial) on 14th March 1884, as a trademark for concentrated drugs and medicines in tablet form. (It remains a proprietary name to this day.) The firm applied […]

Read More

doolally

Four’s a Crowd.—A merry, irresponsible farce that dips frequently into pure crazy comedy. For this they have chosen to give Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland a “break” from their usual story book hero and heroine types. These two lovely young people do very well, but I cannot think that crazy comedy suits them best. […]

Read More

the toast of the town

  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Kats – illustration from Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places (1873), by Walter Thornbury (The Kit-Cat, or Kit-Kat, Club in London was a club of Whig politicians and men of letters founded in the reign (1685-8) of James II; its […]

Read More

the cup that cheers

    The phrase the cup that cheers but not inebriates and its variants refer to tea as a drink which invigorates a person without causing drunkenness. It is from The Winter Evening, the fourth book of The Task. A Poem, in six Books (1785), by the English poet and letter-writer William Cowper (1731-1800): Now stir the fire, and close the […]

Read More