‘lead in one’s pencil’: meaning and origin

USA, 1927—denotes male vigour, especially sexual—with wordplay on ‘penis’—interestingly, via an alteration of the Latin diminutive ‘pēnĭcillus’, denoting literally a little tail, hence a painter’s brush or pencil, ‘pencil’ is derived from Latin ‘pēnis’, denoting literally a tail, hence the penis

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an Australian use of ‘boots under the bed’

has been used to denote evidence of a de facto relationship affecting a woman’s eligibility for Social-Security benefits—refers to past practices of field officers inspecting homes and bedrooms

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‘to judge a book by its cover’: meaning and origin

USA, 1837—to make assumptions about someone or something based on appearance or on superficial characteristics—the metaphor occurs in the preface to ‘Truth in Fiction: Or, Morality in Masquerade. A Collection of Two hundred twenty five Select Fables of Æsop, and other Authors’ (London, 1708), by Edmund Arwaker

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‘bread-artist’: meaning and origin

an artist or writer who produces what is considered to be inferior work simply to earn a living—loan translation from German ‘Brotkünstler’—first used in 1827 by Scottish historian and political philosopher Thomas Carlyle in a text about German literature

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‘to break a butterfly on a wheel’: meaning and origin

to use unnecessary force in destroying something fragile—alludes to a wheel used as an instrument of torture—first occurs in An Epistle from Mr. Pope, to Dr. Arbuthnot (1734), by the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who perhaps coined this phrase

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‘green thumb’: meaning and origin

British, 1907—denotes considerable talent or ability to grow plants—in this phrase, the adjective ‘green’ refers to the colour of growing vegetation—1921: ‘green-thumbed’ (adjective)

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‘green fingers’: meaning and origin

British, 1906—denotes considerable talent or ability to grow plants—in this phrase, the adjective ‘green’ refers to the colour of growing vegetation—1914: ‘green-fingered’ (adjective)

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