loose cannon

  naval gunnery in the old days An 18-ton gun in action at the bombardment of Alexandria. The gun has just recoiled after firing. No. 1 is “serving the vent.” The sponge end is being passed to be thrust out of the small scuttle in the middle of the port (which is closed as soon […]

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grog

    According to the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy, in 1731 rum was made an official issue to seamen and the daily half pint was issued in two equal parts, one in the morning and the other in the evening.  This was neat spirit and drunkenness became rife especially on the […]

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tell that to the marines

  “HUNS KILL WOMEN AND CHILDREN!” “TELL THAT TO THE MARINES!” First-World-War US recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg image: Disappearing Idioms This poster, which attracted a great deal of attention, portrays an angry-looking young man in the act of pulling off his coat as though he were anxious to get into a fight. The […]

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apple-pie order

  chaussons aux pommes (apple turnovers) photograph: The Good Life France       The compound apple-pie order means perfect order or neatness. Its first known user was a British Royal Navy officer, Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley (1734-1808), in his journal in 1780: Exercised Great Guns and small Arms as I constantly do every Tuesday […]

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Rotten Row

  the Rotten-row in Glasgow, circa 1570 image: The Glasgow Story     The street name Rotten Row occurs in many different towns. For example, The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) of 10th December 1728 published the following advertisement: There is just come to Leith, a Parcel of fine Figs both in Casks and Frails [= baskets], […]

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forlorn hope

  MEANING   a persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled, a faint hope, a ‘hope against hope’   ORIGIN   On the face of it, this is a curious expression, because the adjective forlorn does not normally mean faint but miserable, lonely, forsaken or sad. The current sense of forlorn hope […]

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gongoozler

The noun ‘gongoozler’, denoting a person who stares protractedly at anything, originally designated an idler who stares at length at activity on a canal.

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Harriet Lane – Fanny Adams

  Lamentation of Henry Wainwright, For the Murder and Mutilation of Harriet Lane (1875)     MEANING   The Northern Daily Mail and South Durham Herald (Northumberland) of 14th July 1894 published an article titled Naval slang: How Jack re-christens things, which contains the following: The preserved meat served out to him is known as “Fanny Adams” or “Harriet Lane.” But the term Harriet Lane was also […]

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OMG

  letter written by Lord Fisher to Winston Churchill on 9th September 1917 image: AbeBooks book blog       The exclamation OMG expresses astonishment, excitement, embarrassment, etc. It is from the initial letters of oh my God (the final element may sometimes represent gosh or goodness). This initialism is older than the Internet or […]

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Buggin’s turn

   caricature of Lord Fisher by ‘Spy’ (Leslie Ward) published in Vanity Fair in 1902     Buggins’ turn, or Buggins’s turn, is the principle of assigning an appointment to persons in rotation rather than according to merit. The earliest recorded use of this expression is in a letter written on 13th January 1901 by the […]

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