origin of ‘pink’

The noun ‘pink’ for the flower is perhaps short for ‘pink eye’, ‘small or half-shut eye’ (cf. French ‘œillet’, ‘carnation’, diminutive of ‘œil’, ‘eye’).

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esprit d’escalier

The expression ‘esprit d’escalier’, ‘wit of the staircase’, originally referred to a witty remark coming to mind on the stairs leading away from a gathering.

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pigs might fly

The original form of this phrase was ‘pigs fly with their tails forward’. Also: the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish equivalent expressions.

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‘Scouse’ (Liverpudlian)

The original sense of ‘Scouse’, denoting a person from Liverpool, is ‘a stew’. The word ‘scouse’ is in turn a shortening of ‘lobscouse’, of obscure origin.

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Yorkshire tyke

The word ‘tyke’, a nickname for a person from Yorkshire, originally meant ‘mongrel’. The people from Yorkshire have adopted it as a term of self-reference.

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over the top

‘Over the top’, which means ‘excessive’, originated as a WWI expression meaning ‘over the parapet of a trench and into battle’.

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(with) tongue in cheek

The phrase ‘(with) tongue in cheek’ originally referred to a sign of contempt or derision consisting in sticking one’s tongue in one’s cheek.

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(as) mad as a March hare

‘(As) mad as a March hare’ refers to the fact that, in the breeding season, the hare is characterised by much leaping, boxing and chasing in circles.

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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 […]

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