meaning and origin of ‘forty winks’

early 19th century—probably a jocular application of ‘forty’ as an indefinite term for a large number—‘wink’ in the sense of ‘a closing of the eyes for sleep’

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘happy as a sandboy’

  The phrase (as) happy (or jolly) as a sandboy means extremely happy or carefree—cf. also happy as a clam and happy as Larry. A sandboy was a boy hawking sand for sale. It seems that the earliest use of the word is The Rider and Sand-boy: a Tale, the title of a poem written by a certain Mr Meyler and published in Harvest-Home in 1805: […]

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origin of ‘fly-by-night’ (unreliable or untrustworthy)

The noun fly-by-night, or fly-by-nighter, denotes an unreliable or untrustworthy person. As an adjective, fly-by-night means unreliable or untrustworthy, especially in business or financial matters. However, the term seems to go back to the idea of witches flying on their broomsticks by night. At least, its first recorded instance is as a term of contempt […]

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