origin of ‘neither fish nor fowl’

Origin: for purposes of fasting, food was divided into categories – ‘fish’, the flesh of fish, ‘flesh’, the flesh of land-animals, ‘fowl’, the flesh of birds.

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to have a bee in one’s bonnet

This phrase is a transformation of ‘one’s head full of bees’, meaning scatter-brained, unable to think straight, as if bees are buzzing around in one’s head.

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don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

A horse’s teeth reveal its age. It is therefore bad manners to look in the mouth of a horse that has been received as a gift in order to establish its value.

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origin of ‘cap-a-pie’

English ‘cap-a-pie’ is from ‘de cap à pied’, ‘from head to foot’, used in Occitan and in the Middle French of southern France.

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hair of the dog

  A Mad Dog in a Coffee House (London, 20th March 1809) by the English caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)     The term hair of the dog denotes an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover. It is a shortening of the phrase hair of the dog that bit you, first recorded in A dialogue […]

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dressed to the nines

  We’ll show her dressed to the nines, posing with a tribe of gypsies in the Pyrenees illustration by Steven Spurrier for The Vanishing Star. A Comedy of Love and Strategy in Hollywood, by Reita Weiman, published in Britannia and Eve (London) of December 1932     The phrase dressed to the nines means dressed […]

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as warm as toast

  advertisement from the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer (East Sussex) 25th November 1950 How warm is Toast? Correctly toasted and caught at the moment of ripeness, opinion has it that the crispest toast reaches the ultimate in its exquisite flavour at a temperature of between 150 and 160 degrees. But willy-nilly, tastes vary, and it would less […]

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to buy a pig in a poke

    In this expression, the noun poke denotes a bag, a small sack. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old Northern French forms such as poke and pouque, variants of the Old French forms poche and pouche — the last of which is the origin of English pouch. (Incidentally, English pocket is from Anglo-Norman poket, pokete, diminutive forms of poke.) The expression to buy a pig in a poke simply cautions against buying or […]

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