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

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

hot mess

  This advertisement for the second season (2014) of comedienne Amy Schumer’s sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, highlighted both the “hot” and “mess” sides of her personality — photograph: Jamey Welch Creative   The primary meanings of the noun mess are a serving of food, a course, a meal, a prepared dish of a specified […]

Read More

to play gooseberry

PLAYING “GOOSEBERRY.” Incredible though the statement may sound in these days, there still exist shy and diffident lovers of both sexes to whom, before they are quite, quite sure of themselves or each other, the presence of a “gooseberry” acts at once as support and fillip. Naturally the sensible girl will select as gooseberry a […]

Read More

not to give a tinker’s damn

  The phrase not to give, care or be worth a tinker¹’s curse, cuss² or damn (or elliptically a tinker’s) is an intensification of not to give, care or be worth a curse, cuss or damn, with reference to the bad language reputedly used by tinkers. The low repute in which tinkers were held is also […]

Read More

cock-and-bull story

Democritus Junior (Robert Burton) from the frontispiece to the 1628 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy     The phrase cock-and-bull story denotes an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. The French expression sauter du coq à l’âne, literally to jump from the cock to the (male) ass, means to skip from one subject to another, the […]

Read More

the cup that cheers

    The phrase the cup that cheers but not inebriates and its variants refer to tea as a drink which invigorates a person without causing drunkenness. It is from The Winter Evening, the fourth book of The Task. A Poem, in six Books (1785), by the English poet and letter-writer William Cowper (1731-1800): Now stir the fire, and close the […]

Read More

Teddy boy

  Grown-up Teddy boys SHOWADDYWADDY, who put fifties rock ’n’ roll and that era’s Teddy Boy look into the seventies pop scene are back on vinyl – and on compact disc too – with a new single, Why, on Tiger Records, and a compilation hits album and cassette, The Best Steps To Heaven. It’s also […]

Read More

to read the riot act

  Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.           […]

Read More