‘in a cleft stick’: meaning and origin

UK, 1710—in a situation in which any action one takes will have adverse consequences—‘cleft’, past participle of the verb ‘cleave’, means ‘split in two to a certain depth’—the image is of one being squeezed between the stick’s prongs

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a Pepysian phrase: ‘and so to bed’

phrase popularised by its frequent use in the diary (1659-69) of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)—not peculiar to him, however, as it was used for example by Philip Massinger in 1624

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history of the phrase ‘tin Jesus’

USA, 1874, as ‘a little tin Jesus on wheels’—in reference to tin as a base metal, ‘tin’ is used figuratively in the senses ‘petty’, ‘worthless’, ‘counterfeit’

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