(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.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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?”

Read More

cat-o’-nine-tails

  cat-o’-nine-tails (1866-79) – photograph: National Maritime Museum     The noun cat-o’-nine-tails denotes a rope whip with nine knotted cords, formerly used, especially at sea, to flog offenders. This instrument of punishment was authorised in the British navy and army until 1881. The word is first recorded in Love for love (London, 1695), a comedy […]

Read More

to run the gauntlet

                                           SOLDAT PASSE PAR LES BAGUETTES. Un des chatiments du soldat dans un camp c’est de le depouiller nud jusqu’a la ceinture sa chemise pendante sur ses chausses et le faire passer entre deux Rengées […]

Read More

show a leg

  HOW A SAILOR BEGINS HIS DAY’S WORK A Scene on board H.M.S. “Trafalgar.” The boatswain blows his whistle at 5 o’clock in the morning and cries, “All hands.” Diving in and out beneath the hammocks he goes with bent head calling the same old cry of Nelson’s day: “Rise and shine. Show a leg—show […]

Read More

banger

    It has often been said that the noun banger appeared as British slang for sausage in the World War One trenches. But, in fact, it was in use in the British Navy before the outbreak of the war. On 27th July 1904, The Tatler (London) published The real letters of a midshipmite [= […]

Read More

to chance one’s arm

    The informal British phrase to chance one’s arm means to undertake something although it may be dangerous or unsuccessful. Its origin is unclear. The earliest use that I have found is from How our blue-jackets are fed, an article about the “diet of the British sailor at sea” published in The Weekly Telegraph […]

Read More

to toe the line

    The phrase to toe the line means to accept the authority, policies or principles of a particular group, especially unwillingly. Its literal sense is to stand or crouch with the toes touching the line, especially at the start of a race or fight. The current meaning is an extension of a figurative usage, […]

Read More

not to give a tinker’s damn

  The phrase not to give, care or be worth a tinker¹’s curse, cuss² or damn (or elliptically a tinker’s) is an intensification of not to give, care or be worth a curse, cuss or damn, with reference to the bad language reputedly used by tinkers. The low repute in which tinkers were held is also […]

Read More