origin of ‘to crawl out of the woodwork’

USA, 1930—‘to crawl, or to come, out of the woodwork’: of an unpleasant or unwelcome person or thing, to come out of hiding, to emerge from obscurity; the image is of vermin or insects crawling out of crevices or other hidden places in a building

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origin of ‘decent’ (sufficiently clothed to see visitors)

USA, 1911—‘to be decent’: ‘to be sufficiently clothed to see visitors’; often as a coy or jocular enquiry ‘are you decent?’—originated in the question asked when knocking at the door of an actor’s or actress’s dressing room in a theatre

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‘maelstrom’ (a whirlpool off the west coast of Norway)

late 16th century—from early modern Dutch ‘maelstrom’ (now ‘maalstroom’)—originally a proper name designating a powerful whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean, off the west coast of Norway, which was formerly supposed to suck in and destroy all vessels within a wide radius

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the shadowy history of the word ‘silhouette’

1763 in French, 1798 in English—from the name of Étienne de Silhouette (1709-67), Controller-General of Finances in 1759—perhaps because he might have invented the portrait in profile obtained by tracing the outline of a head or figure by means of its shadow

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the history of ‘burnsides’, ‘sideburns’ and ‘sideboards’

After Ambrose Burnside, Union general in the U.S. Civil War, ‘burnsides’ (1866) denotes thick side whiskers worn with a moustache and clean-shaven chin; on the pattern of ‘side whiskers’, it was altered to ‘sideburns’ (1875), itself altered to ‘sideboards’ (1882).

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How Tex Avery popularised ‘wolf whistle’.

The noun ‘wolf whistle’ appeared in the USA in 1943—Wolf-whistling was popularised by the wolf, a cartoon character created by Tex Avery in Little Red Walking Hood (1937), which reappeared in Red Hot Riding Hood (1943).

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How ‘mouse’, ‘muscle’ and ‘mussel’ are interrelated.

Classical Latin ‘muscŭlus’, literally ‘a little mouse’, also denoted ‘a muscle of the body’, especially of the upper arm, from the resemblance of a flexing muscle to the movements made by a mouse; ‘muscŭlus’ was also used in the sense of ‘mussel’.

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‘to use one’s loaf’ (‘to use one’s common sense’)

First recorded in The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, Yorkshire) of Friday 26 August 1938, the phrase ‘to use one’s loaf’ means ‘to use one’s common sense’. Here, ‘loaf’, a shortening of ‘loaf of bread’, is rhyming slang for ‘head’.

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