to push up daisies

  photograph: Max Pixel       Several colloquial phrases associate daisies with being dead: under the daisies, which means dead and buried, to push up (the) daisies and to turn one’s toes up to the daisies, which mean to be in one’s grave, to be dead. I have found an early instance of the […]

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ham-fisted – ham-handed

  The word ham denotes the part of the hindquarters of a pig or similar animal between the hock and the hip, hence, in cookery, the meat of this part, especially when salted or smoked. The comparison between large hands and hams (aided by the alliteration ham–hand) gave rise to the adjectives ham-fisted and ham-handed, meaning having large hands, hence also heavy-handed, awkward, bungling. These adjectives […]

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Albion

The name Albion did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)   The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, theologian and historian St. Bede (circa 673-735):   […]

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Kilkenny cats

    Kilkenny cats denotes two cats fabled to have fought until only their tails remained, hence combatants who fight until they annihilate each other, and to fight like Kilkenny cats means to engage in a mutually destructive struggle. (The name Kilkenny denotes both a county in south-eastern Ireland and its chief town.) The earliest […]

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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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the Christmas Truce of 1914

  A SKETCH OF THE UNOFFICIAL CHRISTMAS TRUCE. An artist’s impression of an incident described in a soldier’s letter: “One of our fellows then filled his pockets with fags and got over the trench. The German got over his trench, and right enough, they met half-way and shook hands, Fritz taking the fags and giving […]

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not a cat in hell’s chance

  Jackson’s Oxford Journal – 29th September 1753     The phrase not a cat in hell’s chance, which means no chance at all, is puzzling. It is a shortening of the more explicit no more chance than a cat in hell without claws.  The earliest instance of this phrase that I could find is from Jackson’s Oxford […]

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fed up

  Sunderland Day By Day HE SMASHED WINDOW— Because He Was “Fed Up” “I AM ‘fed up’; I have been out of work six years and I want to be locked up,” said John Scott (61), of Hood Street, Monkwearmouth, who appeared in the dock at Sunderland Police Court to-day accused of breaking a plate glass window, […]

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to pay through the nose

  photograph: la vida cotidiana       MEANING   to pay excessively, to be charged exorbitantly   PROBABLE ORIGIN   The expression to pay through the nose is first recorded in Piazza universale di proverbi Italiani, or, A common place of Italian proverbs and proverbial phrases digested in alphabetical order (1666), by Giovanni Torriano (floruit 1640): Oft-times Rich […]

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