the long history of ‘blues’

‘blues’—from ‘blue’ (‘sorrowful’) and elliptically from ‘blue devils’ (‘depression’)—originally a metaphorical use of ‘blue’ (‘bruised’), as in ‘black and blue’

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origin of ‘the Slough of Despond’

the name of a deep boggy place at the beginning of Christian’s journey to the Celestial City in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ (1678), by John Bunyan

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origin of ‘barmy’ (crazy)

A ‘barmy’ person has a ‘frothy top’, insubstantial brains, from ‘barm’, the froth that forms on the top of fermenting malt liquors.

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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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origin of ‘blarney’

‘blarney’: originally an allusion to the lies told by those who, having not reached the Blarney stone (in a castle near Cork), explained how they did reach it

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auld lang syne

  Old Long Syne – broadside ballad (probably 1701)     The Scots lang syne means long since, long ago. Conversely, short syne means a short time ago, recently. Especially in recalling old experiences shared with friends, auld lang syne, literally old long-ago, is used as a noun to mean the years of long ago, old times, memories of the past, and for auld lang syne is used to mean for old times’ […]

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you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

    The proverb you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear means you can’t create a fine product from inferior materials. It originated in Scotland, according to its first recorded instance, in A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699), by “B. E. Gent.”: Luggs, […]

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the cold shoulder

    The phrase the cold shoulder denotes a show of intentional and marked coldness or of studied indifference. Because the two earliest instances of this phrase recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition – 1989) are from the Scottish novelist and poet Walter Scott (1771-1832) and do not refer to food, Robert Allen writes in Dictionary of English Phrases (2008) that […]

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Shock-headed Peter

  In The English Struwwelpeter and the Birth of International Copyright (The Library, journal of the Bibliographical Society, 2013), Jane Brown and Gregory Jones explain that the ancient free city of Frankfurt am Main saw in 1845 the first appearance of Dr Heinrich Hoffmann¹’s Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder², a German children’s Christmas picture book. […]

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