to set the Thames on fire

from the image of an impossible task, ‘to set the Thames on fire’: to work wonders — typically used negatively in the ironic sense never to distinguish oneself

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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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origin of ‘gas and gaiters’

coined by Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby (1839) in a comic passage in which an insane speaker makes a series of nonsensical statements

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by hook or by crook

The phrase perhaps originated in laws or customs regulating the gathering of firewood by tenants; it was perhaps a legal formula in which ‘crook’ merely reinforced ‘hook’.

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to send to Coventry

probable origin: in 1642, during the English Civil War, Royalists had been captured at Birmingham and sent to Coventry, which was a Parliamentarian stronghold.

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Gorgeous Wrecks

‘Gorgeous Wrecks’ (UK, WWI): members of the Volunteer Training Corps, from the letters ‘G.R.’ (‘Government Recognition’) interpreted as meaning ‘Georgius Rex’

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(as) mad as a March hare

‘(As) mad as a March hare’ refers to the fact that, in the breeding season, the hare is characterised by much leaping, boxing and chasing in circles.

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contredanse

  plate 19: La Trénis, Contredanse source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France from the 1931 reprint of the caricatures published under the title of Le Bon Genre (1827 edition), including Observations sur les modes et les usages de Paris; the following comment about La Trénis accompanies this plate: (Année 1805.) Cette danse porte le […]

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origin of ‘quiz’

Originally students’ slang, ‘quiz’ is from Latin ‘quis’, meaning ‘who’, as used by the Roman poet Horace in “vir bonus est quis?”, “who is a good man?”

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