no room to swing a cat

  Q. Once hairy scenter did transgress,      Whose dame, both powerful and fierce,      Tho’ hairy scenter took delight      To do the thing both fair and right,      Upon a Sabbath day. A. An old Woman whipping her Cat for Catching Mice on a Sunday. from The True Trial […]

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excuse my French

  advertisement from The Mid-Sussex Times of 27th March 1923: THE PICTURE THEATRE, HAYWARDS HEATH. “PARDON MY FRENCH” AND “A CERTAIN RICH MAN.” Do you enjoy a good laugh? If you do go and see “Pardon my French” at the Heath Theatre to-night or on Wednesday. It is a pert pot-pourri of pep and romance. [&c.]     […]

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moonshine

      MEANING   foolish or fanciful talk, ideas, plans, etc.   ORIGIN   It is a shortening of moonshine in the water, meaning appearance without substance, something unsubstantial or unreal. In this phrase, moonshine means moonlight. The 15th-century correspondence between members of the Paston family of Norfolk gentry, and with others connected with […]

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Witham

  Witham (Essex) – town sign photograph: East Anglian Daily Times     Witham is the name of several villages in Lincolnshire and Essex. With a pun on wit, the expression little, or small, Witham was used proverbially for a place of which the inhabitants were remarkable for stupidity. For example, the following, from A fourth […]

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Rotten Row

  the Rotten-row in Glasgow, circa 1570 image: The Glasgow Story     The street name Rotten Row occurs in many different towns. For example, The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) of 10th December 1728 published the following advertisement: There is just come to Leith, a Parcel of fine Figs both in Casks and Frails [= baskets], […]

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peeping Tom

  A drawing of Peeping Tom, in the exact state in which he is carved, but divested of all paint and superfluous ornaments. W. Reader in The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle (London) of July 1826 The Coventry Peeping Tom statue, which dates from around 1500, survives today. Though it is now stripped down to […]

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curfew

  Nowadays, a curfew is a regulation requiring people to remain indoors between specified hours, typically at night – for example: a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The word is from Old French and Anglo-Norman forms such as cuevre-feu and covrefeu, hence the Modern French word couvre-feu (plural couvre-feux), composed of: – couvre, imperative of the verb couvrir, to cover, – feu, meaning fire. The corresponding medieval Latin names were ignitegium […]

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pedigree

  Whooping Crane (Grus americana) from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1904)     The word pedigree appeared in the early 15th century in the Latin form pedicru and in English forms such as pe-de-grew and pedegru, from Anglo-Norman French pé de grue and variants (pied de grue in Modern French), meaning literally foot of crane. The Anglo-Norman French word is first recorded during the […]

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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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dandy

   Dandy Dinmonts by the Haining Loch (1888), by the Scottish artist Robert Smellie     MEANING   a man unduly concerned with looking stylish and fashionable   ORIGIN   As it was originally in use on the Scottish Border at the end of the 18th century, dandy represents perhaps the name Andrew. (From Dandie […]

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