marrowsky

  The noun marrowsky, which has also been spelt Marouski, Marowsky, morowski and mowrowsky, denotes a variety of slang, or a slip in speaking, characterised by the transposition of the initial letters or syllables of two words. The more usual term is spoonerism. The word is first recorded in the verbal form Marrowskying in the critical review […]

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agony column – agony aunt

    advertisement published in The Times (London) on 18th December 1800: A CARD.—If the Lady who a Gentleman handed into her carriage from Covent Garden Theatre, on Wednesday, the third of this month, will oblige the Advertiser with a line to Z. Z., Spring Garden Coffee House, saying if married or single, she will […]

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to get the bird

  detail from the frontispiece to The Life of an Actor (1825), by Pierce Egan     The phrase to get, or to give, the bird means to receive, or to show, derision, to be dismissed, or to dismiss. It originated in theatrical slang and referred to the ‘big bird’, that is, the goose, which hisses as people do when they make a sound of disapproval […]

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it’s Greek to me

    The noun Greek has long been used in the sense of unintelligible speech or language, gibberish, and the phrase it’s (all) Greek to me means I can’t understand it at all. This expression is well known from The Tragedie of Julius Cæsar (1599), by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616): (Folio […]

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How goes the enemy?

  “Tell me, man, how goes the enemy?” cartoon published in the Sunday Pictorial (London) of 23rd August 1942     The colloquial phrase How goes the enemy? means What is the time?. Its origin was explained in the text where it is first recorded, published in the Brighton Gazette, and Lewes Observer (Sussex) of 26th October 1826: THE VAMPIRE. N° LVIII. My dear […]

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heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is the heartwood of the oak. The heartwood […]

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Maconochie

      Maconochie Brothers was a company set up in 1873 by Archibald (1854-1926) and James (1850-1895) Maconochie. (Maconochie is a surname derived from the Gaelic Macdonochie, the son of Duncan.) With food processing plants on the Isle of Dogs (London), in Lowestoft (Suffolk), in Fraserburgh (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) and other places, the company was a wholesale provision merchant and manufacturer of pickles, potted meat and […]

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nightcap

    A nightcap is a cap worn in bed to keep one’s head warm. The word is first recorded in the description and valuation, made in 1378, of the articles that were in the shop of Thomas Trewe, haberdasher of London: one dozen of white caps, called “nightcappes”, was worth 2s. 3d.. The figurative […]

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the Cat-and-Mouse Act

  the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 – image: www.parliament.uk   The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 was rushed through Parliament by Herbert Henry Asquith’s Liberal government in order to deal with the problem of hunger-striking suffragettes, who were force-fed, which led to a public outcry. The Act allowed for the […]

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every cloud has a silver lining

  Anna Maria Hall (1861), by Daniel John Pound – image: National Portrait Gallery     The proverb every cloud has a silver lining means that every difficult or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect, even though this may not be immediately apparent. In 1840, the Irish novelist known as Mrs S. […]

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