‘a sprat to catch a mackerel’: meaning and origin

1747—a small outlay or risk ventured in the hope or expectation of a significant return—a metaphor from fishing, in which sprats are used as bait to catch larger fish—in early use with the words ‘salmon’ and ‘herring’ instead of ‘mackerel’

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the authentic origin of ‘red herring’

Red herring, used in laying trails for hounds to follow, was misunderstood as a deliberate attempt to distract them, hence the figurative use of ‘red herring’.

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meaning and origin of ‘the fourth estate’

MEANING   the fourth estate: the press; the profession of journalism   ORIGIN   The first known user of the expression, designating the ordinary people, was the English author and magistrate Henry Fielding (1707-54) writing, under the pseudonym of Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain, in The Covent-Garden Journal of Saturday 13th June […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to beggar belief’

MEANING   The phrase to beggar belief (or description) means to be too extraordinary to be believed (or described).   ORIGIN   The literal meaning of the verb to beggar is to make a beggar of, exhaust the means of, reduce to beggary. It came to be used figuratively to mean to exhaust the resources […]

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