to wet one’s whistle

In ‘to wet one’s whistle’ (to take a drink), attested in the late 14th century, in Chaucer, ‘whistle’ is jocular for the mouth or the throat.

Read More

the straight and narrow

‘The straight and narrow’: allusion to the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Straight’ is an alteration of ‘strait’, meaning ‘so narrow as to make transit difficult’.

Read More

origin of ‘to play possum’

‘to play possum’: American English, early 19th century—pretend to be dead, asleep, etc.—allusion to the opossum’s habit of feigning death when threatened

Read More

to have a bee in one’s bonnet

This phrase is a transformation of ‘one’s head full of bees’, meaning scatter-brained, unable to think straight, as if bees are buzzing around in one’s head.

Read More

slave – Slav – robot – ciao

The word ‘slave’ is from Medieval Latin ‘Sclavus’, ‘Slav’, because the Slavic peoples were frequently reduced to a servile condition by the Germanic conquest.

Read More

by hook or by crook

The phrase perhaps originated in laws or customs regulating the gathering of firewood by tenants; it was perhaps a legal formula in which ‘crook’ merely reinforced ‘hook’.

Read More

origin of ‘sneeze’

The verb ‘sneeze’ is an alteration of the obsolete verb ‘fnese’ due to misreading or misprinting it as ‘ſnese’ (= ‘snese’).

Read More

origin of ‘barmy’ (crazy)

A ‘barmy’ person has a ‘frothy top’, insubstantial brains, from ‘barm’, the froth that forms on the top of fermenting malt liquors.

Read More

contredanse

  plate 19: La Trénis, Contredanse source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque Nationale de France from the 1931 reprint of the caricatures published under the title of Le Bon Genre (1827 edition), including Observations sur les modes et les usages de Paris; the following comment about La Trénis accompanies this plate: (Année 1805.) Cette danse porte le […]

Read More

toot sweet

    The adverb toot sweet means straight away, immediately. Humorously after the English words toot and sweet, it represents an anglicised pronunciation of the synonymous French adverb tout de suite. Before the First World War, it was only used in representations of French speech. For example, an article titled Galloglossia, published in Sharpe’s London Magazine […]

Read More