‘Scouse’ (Liverpudlian)

The original sense of ‘Scouse’, denoting a person from Liverpool, is ‘a stew’. The word ‘scouse’ is in turn a shortening of ‘lobscouse’, of obscure origin.

Read More

cat-o’-nine-tails

  cat-o’-nine-tails (1866-79) – photograph: National Maritime Museum     The noun cat-o’-nine-tails denotes a rope whip with nine knotted cords, formerly used, especially at sea, to flog offenders. This instrument of punishment was authorised in the British navy and army until 1881. The word is first recorded in Love for love (London, 1695), a comedy […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

to run the gauntlet

                                           SOLDAT PASSE PAR LES BAGUETTES. Un des chatiments du soldat dans un camp c’est de le depouiller nud jusqu’a la ceinture sa chemise pendante sur ses chausses et le faire passer entre deux Rengées […]

Read More

show a leg

  HOW A SAILOR BEGINS HIS DAY’S WORK A Scene on board H.M.S. “Trafalgar.” The boatswain blows his whistle at 5 o’clock in the morning and cries, “All hands.” Diving in and out beneath the hammocks he goes with bent head calling the same old cry of Nelson’s day: “Rise and shine. Show a leg—show […]

Read More

banger

    It has often been said that the noun banger appeared as British slang for sausage in the World War One trenches. But, in fact, it was in use in the British Navy before the outbreak of the war. On 27th July 1904, The Tatler (London) published The real letters of a midshipmite [= […]

Read More

hot mess

  This advertisement for the second season (2014) of comedienne Amy Schumer’s sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, highlighted both the “hot” and “mess” sides of her personality — photograph: Jamey Welch Creative   The primary meanings of the noun mess are a serving of food, a course, a meal, a prepared dish of a specified […]

Read More

to chance one’s arm

    The informal British phrase to chance one’s arm means to undertake something although it may be dangerous or unsuccessful. Its origin is unclear. The earliest use that I have found is from How our blue-jackets are fed, an article about the “diet of the British sailor at sea” published in The Weekly Telegraph […]

Read More

to toe the line

    The phrase to toe the line means to accept the authority, policies or principles of a particular group, especially unwillingly. Its literal sense is to stand or crouch with the toes touching the line, especially at the start of a race or fight. The current meaning is an extension of a figurative usage, […]

Read More

a chip on one’s shoulder

    The phrase a chip on one’s shoulder means a challenging or belligerent attitude. In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explains: There is an unusual degree of unanimity about the provenance of have a chip on one’s shoulder (bear a grudge; behave anti-socially). Unlikely as it may seem, […]

Read More