meaning and origin of ‘like a blue-arsed fly’

British English, armed forces, 1936—With reference to the bluebottle fly, the colloquial phrase ‘like a blue-arsed fly’ is used to describe someone engaged in constant, frantic activity or movement.

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a phrase based on prejudice: ‘Dutch courage’

UK, 1797—strength or confidence gained from drinking alcohol—alludes to the drinking habits ascribed to the Dutch—one of the phrases in which ‘Dutch’ is used derogatorily, largely because of the enmity between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries

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‘maelstrom’ (a whirlpool off the west coast of Norway)

late 16th century—from early modern Dutch ‘maelstrom’ (now ‘maalstroom’)—originally a proper name designating a powerful whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean, off the west coast of Norway, which was formerly supposed to suck in and destroy all vessels within a wide radius

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‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’

denotes a situation in which the alternatives are considered equivalent—first recorded, as ‘six of the one and half a dozen of the other’, on 24th April 1790 in the journal of Ralph Clark, a British naval officer—synonym: ‘(as) broad as long’

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Anglo-Indian origin of ‘loot’ (goods stolen in war)

UK, early 19th century—private property taken from an enemy in war—originally an Anglo-Indian noun, from Hindi ‘lūṭ’, from Sanskrit ‘luṇṭh-‘, ‘to rob’—came to be also used as slang for ‘money’ and to also denote ‘wedding presents’

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The literal meaning of ‘easel’ is ‘ass’ (beast of burden).

The noun ‘easel’ was borrowed from Dutch ‘ezel’; this sense of ‘ezel’ is a metaphorical extension of its literal meaning, ‘ass’, from the fact that, like a beast of burden, an easel is used to carry things. Likewise, the literal meaning of the synonymous French word ‘chevalet’ is ‘little horse’.

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original sense of ‘chop and change’: ‘barter and exchange’

The phrase to chop and change means to change one’s opinions or behaviour repeatedly and abruptly. Here, chop originally meant to barter, and change meant to make an exchange with; in other words, this was an alliterative repetitive expression, the two verbs having roughly the same meaning (cf. also, for example, the alliterative phrase to be part and […]

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