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 […]

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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 […]

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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 [= […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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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, […]

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money for old rope

  Money for Old Rope SACKING, RAGS, OLD CAR BATTERIES SCRAP & SALVAGE Our Lorry Will Collect It Cash Waiting Grantham Salvage Co. INNER STREET. Phone 1332 advertisement published in The Grantham Journal (Lincolnshire) on 15th July 1949     The phrase money for old rope has various meanings: a profitable return for little or no trouble; a very easy job; a person […]

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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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Our lunatic contributor

  Ernest Weekley circa 1935     In the chapter Our lunatic contributor of Words and names (1933), the British philologist Ernest Weekley (1865-1954) wrote: The correspondence columns of our middlebrow weeklies and of our two Sunday papers are the happy hunting-ground of the amateur etymologist. A few years ago he published the discovery that ‘nap,’ ‘a short sleep,’ […]

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