the probable origin of ‘monkey business’

UK, 1835—mischievous or deceitful behaviour—alludes to the proverbial playfulness of monkeys—probably modelled on Bengali ‘bãdrāmi’; cf. modern Sanskrit ‘vānara-karman’, from ‘vānara’ (monkey) and ‘karman’ (action, work, employment)

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘the milk in the coconut’

‘the milk in the coconut’: a puzzling fact or circumstance; alludes to the question of how the milk got into the coconut—of British-English origin (1832), not of American-English origin as stated by the Oxford English Dictionary

Read More

How poverty and war produced ‘latchkey child’.

originally: a child wearing the house key tied around their neck and staying in the streets while their mother is at work—USA, 1935: a poor Afro-American woman’s child—USA & UK, WWII: a child whose mother was engaged in war industry

Read More

meanings and origin of ‘dead-cat bounce’

from the notion that even a dead cat will bounce if dropped from a sufficient height—UK, 1981: a rapid fall in the stock market with hardly any reaction—USA, 1985: a rapid but short-lived recovery in the stock market after a sharp fall—hence, 1992: any spurious success

Read More

‘gung ho’ and American admiration for communist China

from Chinese ‘gōnghé’, short for ‘Zhōngguó Gōngyè Hézuò Shè’ (Chinese Industrial Cooperative Society)—interpreted as a slogan meaning ‘work together’ (USA, 1941)—adopted by Evans F. Carlson, commander of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion (1942)

Read More

‘funny-ha-ha’ and ‘funny-peculiar’ used in collocation

USA, 1916—used in collocation to seek or provide clarification between the two main meanings of ‘funny’: ‘funny-ha-ha’ means ‘funny’ in the sense ‘amusing’ or ‘comical’ – ‘funny-peculiar’ means ‘funny’ in the sense ‘strange’ or ‘peculiar’.

Read More

the Shakespearean origin of ‘to flutter the dovecotes’

UK, 1831—to startle or upset a sedate or conventionally-minded community—most probably from the following lines in The Tragedy of Coriolanus (circa 1607), by William Shakespeare: “like an eagle in a dove-cote, I | Flutter’d your Volscians in Corioli”

Read More

origin of ‘the end of civilization as we know it’

first recorded in the United Kingdom in 1914, with reference to the civilizational implication of the German invasion of Belgium at the beginning of World War One; therefore, not first used by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane (1941)

Read More