the authentic origin of the phrase ‘on the nail’

    MEANING   of payments: without delay   ORIGIN   This expression refers to the fingernail and might originally have alluded to drinking fair and square. A clue might be provided by the French phrase payer rubis sur l’ongle (literally to pay ruby on the fingernail), which means to pay exactly what is due. (A variant, used by prostitutes, was rubis sur pieu, […]

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origin of ‘Witham’ (a place whose inhabitants are stupid)

Witham is the name of several villages in Lincolnshire and Essex. With a pun on wit, the expression little, or small, Witham was used proverbially for a place of which the inhabitants were remarkable for stupidity. For example, the following, from A fourth hundred of epygrams (1560) by the English playwright and epigrammatist John Heywood […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘piping hot’

The adjective piping hot is used to refer to very hot food or liquid, usually when served. It referred originally to the hissing of viands in the frying pan, the verb pipe meaning, in this case, to make a whistling sound. This adjective is first attested in The Miller’s Tale, by the English poet Geoffrey […]

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origin of ‘as fit as a fiddle’

  Caricature of Gabriel Harvey from Haue with you to Saffron-walden. Or, Gabriell Harueys hunt is vp (1596), by Thomas Nashe. Entitled The picture of Gabriell Harvey as he is readie to let fly upon Ajax, this caricature depicts him rushing to the toilet at the thought of Nashe’s publication. Ajax was a pun on […]

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meaning and origin of ‘shambles’

  Old York: the Shambles – illustration by Charles G. Harper for his book The Great North Road: The Old Mail Road to Scotland: York to Edinburgh (1901) (The pavements are raised either side of the cobbled street to form a channel where the butchers would wash away the offal and blood.)     MEANING   […]

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