‘to go from zero to hero’ | ‘to go from hero to zero’

USA—(1893) ‘to go from zero to hero’: to experience a sudden increase in popularity or success, especially having previously been in a position of low achievement or esteem—(1899) ‘to go from hero to zero’: to suffer a sudden decline in popularity or success

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‘my stars and garters!’: meaning and origin

1758—humorous exclamation expressing surprise, excitement, etc.—‘star’: a badge in the shape of, or ornamented with, a star, worn as part of the insignia of an order of knighthood or of chivalry—‘garter’: the badge of the highest order of English knighthood, i.e., the Order of the Garter

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‘a sprat to catch a mackerel’: meaning and origin

1747—a small outlay or risk ventured in the hope or expectation of a significant return—a metaphor from fishing, in which sprats are used as bait to catch larger fish—in early use with the words ‘salmon’ and ‘herring’ instead of ‘mackerel’

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‘to make a spoon or spoil a horn’: meaning and origin

Scotland, 1806—to make a determined effort to achieve something, whether ending in success or failure—refers to the making of spoons out of the horns of cattle or sheep, which was common in Scotland till late in the 19th century

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‘Tom Pepper’: meaning and early occurrences

USA, 1812—UK, 1818—the name of a character proverbially said to have been so great a liar that he was expelled from Hell—hence, frequently in ‘a bigger liar than Tom Pepper’, and variants: an outrageous liar

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‘glad and sorry’ (i.e., hire purchase)

UK, 1929—‘glad and sorry’ denotes hire purchase, i.e., a system by which one pays for a thing in regular instalments while having the use of it—the image is that the hire-purchaser is at the same time glad to have the use of the merchandise and sorry to still have to pay for it

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‘Kathleen Mavourneen’: meaning and origin

used attributively of something that may not have an end for years, if ever—especially used of a loan that the borrower refuses to pay back, and of hire purchase—refers to the line “It may be for years, and it may be for ever” in the song ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ (1835)

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‘half seas over’: meanings and origin

literal meaning (1551): halfway across the sea—figurative meanings (1692): halfway towards a goal or destination, half through with a matter, halfway between one state and another—also (1699): half drunk

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a grim phrase: ‘churchyard luck’

In Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the grim proletarian phrase ‘churchyard luck’ denoted the ‘good fortune’ which the parents of a large, poor family experienced by the death of one or more of their children.

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