‘curtain lecture’: meaning and origin

a rebuke given in private by a wife to her husband—1625—from the idea that, in order to conduct herself properly, a wife was to rebuke her husband in secret only, i.e., in the privacy of their curtained bed

Read More

origin of ‘to break the ice’

from the image of breaking the frozen surface of a river in order to make a passage for boats – probably from Latin ‘scindere glaciem’, in Erasmus’s Adages

Read More

the unexpected origin of ‘to rule the roost’

To rule the roost means to be in a dominating position over others. This phrase conjures up a picture of a cock lording it over a group of hens, i.e. a roost, in the farmyard, and appears to be similar to cock of the walk, which designates someone who dominates others within a group. But […]

Read More

meaning and origin of ‘to carry coals to Newcastle’

The phrase to carry coals to Newcastle means to supply something to a place where it is already plentiful; hence, figuratively, to do something wholly superfluous or unnecessary—cf. also to sell refrigerators to the Eskimos and to sell sand in the Sahara. This phrase (in which coals is an obsolete plural) refers to Newcastle upon Tyne, in […]

Read More