origin of ‘once in a blue moon’

‘Once in a blue moon’ is a development from ‘once in a moon’, meaning ‘once a month’, hence ‘occasionally’—‘blue’ is merely a meaningless fanciful intensive.

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to get the bird

  detail from the frontispiece to The Life of an Actor (1825), by Pierce Egan     The phrase to get, or to give, the bird means to receive, or to show, derision, to be dismissed, or to dismiss. It originated in theatrical slang and referred to the ‘big bird’, that is, the goose, which hisses as people do when they make a sound of disapproval […]

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Aunt Sally

  Aunt Sally – from The Modern Playmate: A book of games, sports, and diversions for boys of all ages (new revised edition – 1875?), by John George Wood (1827-89)     The Oxford English Dictionary (first edition – 1885) thus defined Aunt Sally: a game much in vogue at fairs and races, in which […]

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shell out

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Bill Ebbesen     The phrasal verb shell out means to pay a specified amount of money, especially one regarded as excessive. It is first recorded in Moral tales for young people (1801), by the Anglo-Irish novelist and educationist Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849): “One of you, it’s plain, must shell out your corianders.” (The word coriander (or coliander), short […]

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happy as a sandboy

  The phrase (as) happy (or jolly) as a sandboy means extremely happy or carefree. A sandboy was a boy hawking sand for sale. It seems that the earliest use of the word is The Rider and Sand-boy: a Tale, the title of a poem written by a certain Mr Meyler and published in Harvest-Home in 1805: A poor shoeless urchin, half-starv’d and sun-tann’d, Went by […]

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