‘to nail one’s colours to the mast’: meanings and origin

UK, 1808—to make one’s beliefs or intentions plain—from the former practice of nailing an ensign to the mast of a ship, after damage during battle resulted in the ship’s colours no longer being clearly displayed, which otherwise might have been interpreted as a signal of surrender

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meanings and origin of ‘a far cry’

The phrase ‘a far cry’ means ‘something very different’. Its literal signification (first recorded in A Legend of Montrose (1819), by Walter Scott) is ‘a long way’, ‘a great distance’. Here, the noun ‘cry’ denotes ‘a calling distance’, as in ‘within cry of’, meaning ‘within calling distance of’.

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origin of ‘lock, stock and barrel’ (i.e. ‘completely’)

USA, 1811—based on the three principal components that make up a flintlock gun: ‘lock’ denotes the firing mechanism, ‘stock’ the handle or wooden shoulder-piece to which it is attached, and ‘barrel’ the tube down which the bullet is fired

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‘slipshod’: ‘wearing loose shoes or slippers’

‘slipshod’: ‘characterised by a lack of care, thought or organisation’—formed after the obsolete noun ‘slip-shoe’ (= ‘a loosely fitting shoe or slipper’); ‘shod’ (meaning ‘wearing shoes’) is the past participle of the verb ‘shoe’

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the queen’s cushion, a Scottish makeshift seat

‘queen’s’, or ‘king’s’, ‘cushion’: a seat made by two people who cross arms and hold each other’s hands to form a support for another person—Scotland and northern England, 19th century

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