origin of ‘the land of Nod’

‘the land of Nod’: a state of sleep—punning allusion to the name of the region to which Cain went after he had killed his brother Abel (Genesis, 4:16)

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origin of ‘by a long chalk’

‘by a long chalk’: in a great degree, by far — 19th century, from the practice of using chalk to mark up the points scored in a game

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over the moon

The phrase ‘over the moon’ means ‘very happy’, ‘delighted’. It seems to have originated in Ireland in the early 18th century.

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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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(as) mad as a March hare

‘(As) mad as a March hare’ refers to the fact that, in the breeding season, the hare is characterised by much leaping, boxing and chasing in circles.

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cut and dried

  It is a circumstance rather remarkable, that the answer to Sir George Rodney’s summons of surrender, given by the respective Dutch Governours of the Islands of St. Eustatius and St. Martin’s, should be couched exactly in the same form of words without the smallest variation; from this we are either to suppose, that the […]

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tace is Latin for candle

  The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875), by the French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) – Musée d’Orsay, Paris The officiants have just excommunicated Robert by bell, book, and candle, and left the quenched candle behind. Robert II (972-1031), known as the Pious, the son of Hugues Capet, was excommunicated for incest by Pope Gregory […]

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sæva indignatio

  Jonathan Swift’s grave, marked by a simple brass plaque on the floor at the west end of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is adjacent to that of his great friend in life, Stella (Esther Johnson – 1681-1728): plaques marking the graves of Jonathan Swift and Esther Johnson     Latin sæva indignatio, meaning savage indignation, expresses a […]

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of that kidney

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     The word kidney, which is attested around 1325, is of unclear origin. The second element of the Middle-English form kidenei, plural kideneiren, is apparently ey, plural eyren, meaning egg (cf. German Eier, literally eggs, used to mean testicles). The first element remains uncertain; it […]

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to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs

  Original illustration for Of the Swine in The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658), by Edward Topsell     The phrase to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs means to presume to advise a more experienced person. Raw eggs, with or without a little seasoning, used to be a popular food and were regarded as healthy. Grandmothers obviously needed no […]

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