the surprising origin of ‘under wraps’ (concealed)

USA, 1910s—originated in horse racing: ‘under wraps’ is used of a horse that the rider is holding back and intentionally keeping from running at top speed—not from the wrapping placed over newly developed machines before their official launch

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origin of ‘Dutch treat’ and ‘to go Dutch’

USA—‘to go Dutch’ (1907): to have every participant pay their own expenses, or share expenses equally—via ‘to go Dutch treat’ (1887), from ‘Dutch treat’ (1873): a meal, etc., at which each participant pays their share of the expenses—from a German practice

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‘to fall off (the back of) a lorry’ (‘to be stolen’)

UK, 1953, humorous and euphemistic—‘to fall off (the back of) a lorry’: of goods, ‘to be acquired in dubious or unspecified circumstances’, especially ‘to be stolen’—variant with ‘truck’ came into use later in Australian and North American English

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the forgotten origin of ‘cock-a-hoop’

from the 16th-century phrase ‘to set cock a hoop’, ‘to set (the) cock on (the) hoop’, apparently meaning ‘to put the cock (= spigot) on a barrel hoop and let the liquor flow prior to a drinking bout’—‘cock’ later equated with the fowl and ‘hoop’ with French ‘huppe’ (tufted crest)

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‘more — than someone has had hot dinners’

UK, 1937, colloquial—‘to have done something more than oneself (or someone else) has had hot dinners’: used jocularly to emphasise the subject’s wide experience of a particular activity or phenomenon

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origin of ‘handicap’: ‘hand in cap’ (name of a game)

mi-17th century—probably from ‘hand in (the) cap’, used of a sort of game in which players put forfeit money in a cap and then drew from it—later applied to a race between two horses (the better of which carried extra weight), arranged by such rules

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How sports gave ‘rocket science’ its figurative meaning.

The literal meaning of ‘rocket science’ (USA, 1930) is the science of rockets and rocket propulsion—in the 1980s, in connexion with sports, it came to be used ironically as a generic term for anything requiring a high level of intelligence or expertise.

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‘pupil’: one’s own reflection in somebody’s eye

A diminutive of ‘pūpa’ (‘a girl’, in transferred use also ‘a doll’), the Latin feminine noun ‘pūpilla’ came to also denote ‘the pupil of the eye’ on account of one’s own reflection seen when looking into somebody’s eye—the same metaphor underlies ‘to look babies in somebody’s eyes’.

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origin and early instances of ‘gravy train’

Of American-English origin, ‘gravy train’ is first recorded in 1899 with reference to sporting achievement, not to financial gain; it originated in the use of ‘gravy’ in the figurative sense of ‘advantage’, ‘benefit’, first recorded in 1845.

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