origin of ‘the world is my oyster’

refers to the possibility of finding a pearl in an oyster—coined by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor, perhaps in allusion to a proverb

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meaning and origin of ‘Vicar of Bray’

one who changes their principles to suit the circumstances—from a vicar who was twice a Catholic and twice a Protestant from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I’s reigns

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘to run the gauntlet’

                                           SOLDAT PASSE PAR LES BAGUETTES. Un des chatiments du soldat dans un camp c’est de le depouiller nud jusqu’a la ceinture sa chemise pendante sur ses chausses et le faire passer entre deux Rengées […]

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meaning and origin of ‘Hogs Norton’

Light Programme 12.0, Family Favourites; 1.30, Mr. Gillie Potter, Sage of Hogsnorton from B.B.C. Sunday – The Derry Journal (Ireland) – 28th March 1952     The name Hogs Norton, also Hog’s Norton and Hogsnorton, denotes a fictional town renowned for its uncultured and boorish inhabitants. It has often been used in depreciative phrases suggesting that […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to make (both) ends meet’

    To make (both) ends meet means to earn just enough money to live on. It is first recorded in The History of the Worthies of England (1662), by the Church of England clergyman Thomas Fuller (1607/8-61). The author wrote the following about the English Protestant leader Edmund Grindal (1519-83) – in the original […]

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‘a horse that was foaled of an acorn’: meaning and origin

    The phrase a horse that was foaled of an acorn denoted the gibbet, sometimes also called triple tree. In A Collection of English Proverbs (1678), the English naturalist and theologian John Ray (1627-1705) wrote: You’ll ride on a horse that was foal’d of an acorn. That is the gallows. Pelham; or, The Adventures […]

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origin of ‘bonfire’: a fire in which bones were burnt

  a Fifth of November bonfire in Hastings – photograph: VisitEngland     In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined bonfire: [from bon, good, French, and fire.] A fire made for some publick cause of triumph or exultation. In support of this etymology, bonfire in several languages is, literally, fire of joy. For […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to carry coals to Newcastle’

  A trainload of coal on the High Level Bridge in Newcastle photograph: Stephen Craven     MEANING   to carry coals to Newcastle: to supply something to a place where it is already plentiful; hence, figuratively, to do something wholly superfluous or unnecessary   ORIGIN   This phrase (in which coals is an obsolete […]

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