origin of ‘coward’ and of ‘cowardy, cowardy custard’

‘coward’—from Old-French ‘cuard’, probably referring to a frightened animal with its tail between its legs—from ‘cüe’ (Modern French ‘queue’), ‘tail’, and pejorative suffix ‘-ard’ (cf. ‘bastard’)—‘cowardy, cowardy custard’, alliterative nonsensical children’s phrase (19th century)

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‘to use one’s loaf’ (‘to use one’s common sense’)

First recorded in The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, Yorkshire) of Friday 26 August 1938, the phrase ‘to use one’s loaf’ means ‘to use one’s common sense’. Here, ‘loaf’, a shortening of ‘loaf of bread’, is rhyming slang for ‘head’.

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‘handbag’: how Thatcher enriched the English language

‘handbag’: to bully or coerce by subjecting to a forthright verbal assault or criticism—originally used with reference to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Economist (7 August 1982)—from literal meaning ‘to batter or assault with a handbag’

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meaning and origin of ‘to raise Cain’

to create trouble or a commotion—USA, 1840—a euphemism for synonymous phrases such as ‘to raise the Devil’ and ‘to raise hell’—from the name of the eldest son of Adam and Eve and murderer of his brother Abel

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“the very pineapple of politeness” and other malapropisms

from the name of Mrs Malaprop, a character who confuses long words in The Rivals (1775), a comedy by the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan—character named after ‘malapropos’, from the French locution ‘mal à propos’, literally ‘ill to purpose’

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“wedding vowels”, “tongue and cheek” and other eggcorns

‘eggcorn’: alteration of a word or phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements as a similar-sounding word—coined in 2003 on the website Language Log with reference to a misinterpretation of ‘acorn’ as ‘eggcorn’

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the forgotten origin of ‘cock-a-hoop’

from the 16th-century phrase ‘to set cock a hoop’, ‘to set (the) cock on (the) hoop’, apparently meaning ‘to put the cock (= spigot) on a barrel hoop and let the liquor flow prior to a drinking bout’—‘cock’ later equated with the fowl and ‘hoop’ with French ‘huppe’ (tufted crest)

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‘au reservoir’ (‘goodbye until we meet again’)

A humorous alteration of ‘au revoir’ after the noun ‘reservoir’, the exclamation ‘au reservoir’ is first recorded in Little Pedlington and the Pedlingtonians (London, 1839), by the English author John Poole (1786-1872).

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the jocular origin of ‘happy as Larry’

from 1857 onwards in Australian newspapers, but apparently of Irish-English origin—the forename ‘Larry’ was probably chosen as a jocular reinforcement, a variant reduplication, of the adjective ‘happy’

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