origin of ‘eavesdrop’

‘To eavesdrop’ originally referred to standing within the eavesdrop (the ground on to which water drips from the eaves of a house) in order to overhear what is going on inside.

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let’s return to our muttons

to return to the matter in hand—from French ‘revenons à nos moutons’ (‘let’s return to our sheep’), allusion to ‘La Farce de Maistre Pierre Pathelin’ (ca 1457)

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origin of ‘to break the ice’

from the image of breaking the frozen surface of a river in order to make a passage for boats – probably from Latin ‘scindere glaciem’, in Erasmus’s Adages

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meanings and origin of ‘loco-foco’

US, 1830s—a friction match; a radical faction of the Democratic Party—during a meeting, they lit candles with loco-foco matches when the lights were turned off

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origin of ‘small beer’

‘small beer’: ‘person(s) or matter(s) of little or no importance’ (first use by Shakespeare), from the literal sense ‘beer of a weak, poor or inferior quality’

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origin of ‘to cut a caper’

‘caper’: probably abbreviation of ‘cabriole’, from Italian ‘capriola’, literally ‘female roe deer’, from Latin ‘capreola’, ‘wild goat’, from ‘capra’, she-goat

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to set the Thames on fire

from the image of an impossible task, ‘to set the Thames on fire’: to work wonders — typically used negatively in the ironic sense never to distinguish oneself

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meanings and origin of ‘Maundy’

originally the washing of poor persons’ feet – from ‘mandatum novum’, ‘a new commandment’, in the discourse following Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet

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let the cobbler stick to his last

‘Let the cobbler stick to his last’ goes back to Pliny’s story of the Greek artist Apelles answering a cobbler who had criticised one of his paintings.

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