the surprising origin of ‘under wraps’ (concealed)

USA, 1910s—originated in horse racing: ‘under wraps’ is used of a horse that the rider is holding back and intentionally keeping from running at top speed—not from the wrapping placed over newly developed machines before their official launch

Read More

origin of ‘double Dutch’ and ‘High Dutch’ (‘gibberish’)

‘double Dutch’, 19th century—from ‘Dutch’ in the sense of a language that few people can speak, and ‘double’ as a mere intensifier—‘High Dutch’, 17th century—loan translation from French ‘haut allemand’ (= ‘High German’), used in the sense of gibberish

Read More

origin of ‘Brownie’ (Girl Scout or Girl Guide)

1916—from ‘brownie’, i.e. a benevolent elf that supposedly haunts houses and does housework secretly—not from the fact that the uniform of the junior Girl Scouts and Girl Guides is brown

Read More

origin of ‘to eat crow’ (to suffer humiliation)

U.S., second half 19th century—from the story (1850) of a man who, having declared that he could eat anything, was challenged to eat crow; the crow he had to eat was seasoned with snuff, so that the man gave up after one bite, saying “I can eat crow, but I’ll be darned if I hanker after it.”

Read More