‘spare the rod and spoil the child’

first recorded in ‘Hudibras’ (1664), by Samuel Butler—from the first half of ‘Proverbs’, 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children.”

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the straight and narrow

‘The straight and narrow’: allusion to the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Straight’ is an alteration of ‘strait’, meaning ‘so narrow as to make transit difficult’.

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origin of ‘sneeze’

The verb ‘sneeze’ is an alteration of the obsolete verb ‘fnese’ due to misreading or misprinting it as ‘ſnese’ (= ‘snese’).

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to buy a pig in a poke

    In this expression, the noun poke denotes a bag, a small sack. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old Northern French forms such as poke and pouque, variants of the Old French forms poche and pouche — the last of which is the origin of English pouch. (Incidentally, English pocket is from Anglo-Norman poket, pokete, diminutive forms of poke.) The expression to buy a pig in a poke simply cautions against buying or […]

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as cold as charity

    The phrase (as) cold as charity refers to the perfunctory, unfeeling manner in which acts of charity are often done, and public charities administered. It originally alluded to the gospel of Matthew, 24:12, which is as follows in the Early Version (around 1382) of the Wycliffe Bible (wexe is the verb wax and […]

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black sheep

  photograph: Hill Farm, Abermule     MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it   ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth he desires to […]

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