‘Dutching’: meaning and origin

UK, 1989—the practice of sending food destined for the British market for irradiation in a country, typically the Netherlands, where this process is permitted, in order to mask any bacterial contamination before it is put on sale—from ‘Dutch’ and the suffix ‘-ing’, forming nouns denoting an action

Read More

‘hikikomori’: meanings and origin

Japan 1990s—the extreme avoidance of social contact, especially by adolescent males; a person, typically an adolescent male, who avoids social contact—Japanese ‘hikikomori’ is the nominalised stem of the verb ‘hikikomoru’, meaning ‘to withdraw into seclusion’

Read More

‘horror stretch’: meanings and origin

Australia—1954: a very unpleasant experience—originally, 1953: a particularly rough stretch of road on the 6,500-mile round-Australia Redex Reliability Trial of August-September 1953—hence, 1953: any particularly rough stretch of road

Read More

‘blue-sky talk’ | ‘blue-sky research’

USA—‘blue-sky talk’ 1900—‘blue-sky research’ 1947—the adjective ‘blue-sky’ is used to mean: (in negative sense) fanciful, hypothetical; (in positive sense) creative or visionary—from the notion of a blue sky as a place free from disturbances or difficulties

Read More

‘off one’s trolley’: meanings and origin

USA, 1888—deranged, irrational (also, in early use, drunk)—based on the image of a trolley-wheel coming off its trolley-wire—‘trolley’, also ‘trolley-wheel’: a pulley at the end of a pole, for transmitting electric current from an overhead wire to the motor of a trolley-car

Read More

‘iron maiden’: meaning and origin

1757, as a loan translation of German ‘Eiserne Jungfer’ (German text published in 1740)—1837, as a loan translation of German ‘Eiserne Jungfrau’—an instrument of torture, supposedly used during the Middle Ages, consisting of an upright coffin-shaped box lined with iron spikes, into which the victim is shut

Read More

‘elbow grease’ | ‘huile de coude’

The humorous expression ‘elbow grease’ (1639) denotes vigorous physical labour, especially hard rubbing. The corresponding French expression is ‘huile de coude’ (1761), literally ‘elbow oil’.

Read More