pigs might fly

The original form of this phrase was ‘pigs fly with their tails forward’. Also: the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish equivalent expressions.

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origin of ‘quiz’

Originally students’ slang, ‘quiz’ is from Latin ‘quis’, meaning ‘who’, as used by the Roman poet Horace in “vir bonus est quis?”, “who is a good man?”

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no room to swing a cat

  Q. Once hairy scenter did transgress,      Whose dame, both powerful and fierce,      Tho’ hairy scenter took delight      To do the thing both fair and right,      Upon a Sabbath day. A. An old Woman whipping her Cat for Catching Mice on a Sunday. from The True Trial […]

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to play to the gallery

  the gods at the Comedy Theatre, London, 1949 source: Historic England – The Theatres Trust     Via Middle French galerie, the noun gallery, attested in the late 15th century, is from the medieval Latin of Italy galeria, an alteration of medieval Latin galilaea, designating a porch at the entrance of a monastery’s church—hence English […]

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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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to break one’s duck

    The professional bowler welcoming the new-comer. illustration for Very Hard Cash (New York, 1864), by Charles Reade     In cricket, from the resemblance between the figure 0 and a duck’s egg, the term duck’s egg denotes the zero (i.e. 0) placed against a batsman’s name in the scoring sheet when he fails […]

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not to give a tinker’s damn

  The phrase not to give, care or be worth a tinker¹’s curse, cuss² or damn (or elliptically a tinker’s) is an intensification of not to give, care or be worth a curse, cuss or damn, with reference to the bad language reputedly used by tinkers. The low repute in which tinkers were held is also […]

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sandwich

Dr Daniel Solander, Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Dr John Hawkesworth and Lord Sandwich (circa 1771), by John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-79) In 1778, in honour of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, Captain James Cook named Sandwich Islands the islands now known as Hawaiian Islands. (Cook named several other islands after Montagu; for example, present-day […]

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jolly hockey stick(s)

BETHNAL GREEN MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 (980 2415). Sat-Thurs 10am-6pm, Sun 2.30-6pm. Jolly Hockey Sticks. Schoolgirls through the eyes of Angela Brazil¹ & others. May 30-Sept 30. from The Illustrated London News – May 1984 (¹ Angela Brazil (1868-1947), British author of schoolgirls’ stories)     The exclamation jolly hockey stick(s) is […]

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the toast of the town

  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Kats – illustration from Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places (1873), by Walter Thornbury (The Kit-Cat, or Kit-Kat, Club in London was a club of Whig politicians and men of letters founded in the reign (1685-8) of James II; its […]

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