origin of the phrase ‘as poor as a church mouse’

  woodwork in Easingwold Parish Church – Diocese of York Robert Thompson, the Kilburn craftsman, invariably carved a little mouse on his work. photograph: Visit Easingwold     The phrase as poor as a church mouse means extremely poor. It is first recorded in The royalist a comedy (1682), by the English author Thomas D’Urfey (1653-1723): ’Gad […]

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a linguistic investigation into ‘Teddy boy’

In the United Kingdom, especially in the mid-1950s, a Teddy boy was a young man characterised by a style of dress and appearance held to be characteristic of Edward VII’s reign (1901-10), typically a long velvet-collared jacket, drainpipe trousers and sideburns (Teddy is a pet form of Edward (VII)). The term first appeared in print […]

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origin of ‘stirrup cup’ and of ‘one for the road’

Huntsmen still use stirrup cup to designate an alcoholic drink offered to riders either as they are about to depart or when they return. Mr. Barry Puilan, Master of the East Antrim Hounds, hands a stirrup cup to huntsman Jack Taylor during the meet at Trench Hill, Ballyeaston, yesterday. from The Northern Whig and Belfast […]

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meaning and origin of ‘who’s she—the cat’s mother?’

  crossword in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury of 23rd January 1950 30 across: The cat’s mother? (3).     The phrase who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother? and variants are said to a person, especially a child, who uses the feminine third person singular pronoun impolitely or with inadequate reference. The earliest use of the phrase that I found is from The White […]

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meaning and origin of the phrase ‘not a cat in hell’s chance’

The phrase not a cat in hell’s chance means no chance at all—synonyms: a snowball’s chance (in hell) and a Chinaman’s chance. It is a shortening of the more explicit no more chance than a cat in hell without claws.  The earliest instance of this phrase that I have found is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 29th September 1753: Poor […]

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the origin and various meanings of ‘grimalkin’

In The Tragedie of Macbeth (around 1603), by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Gray-Malkin is the name of a fiend in the shape of a grey she-cat, the cat being the form most generally assumed by the familiar spirits of witches according to a common superstition: (Folio 1, 1623)                 […]

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the various uses of ‘human bean’ (human being)

The term human bean is a humorous alteration or mispronunciation of human being, frequently used as part of an extended pun relating to beans. It is first recorded in Punch, or The London Charivari (1842): This little wretch is exciting the most intense interest, (Faugh!) and we have bribed the authorities in all directions to obtain information regarding him. It […]

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meaning and origin of ‘to nail (to the counter)’

The verb nail is used to mean to expose or reveal the falsehood of an allegation, assertion, etc., especially to prevent further dissemination. This use is first recorded in An Oration delivered at the Celebration in Philadelphia of the 106th Anniversary of the Birthday of Thomas Paine, by John Alberger, published in The North American […]

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history and origin of the word ‘tennis’

The word tennis in its current sense is short for lawn tennis. The original form of tennis (known as real tennis to distinguish it from the later lawn tennis) was played with a solid ball on an enclosed court divided into equal but dissimilar halves, the service side (from which service was always delivered) and […]

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origin of ‘to sack’ (to dismiss from employment)

The verb to sack (someone) means to dismiss (someone) from employment. This verb seems to have appeared in the first half of the 19th century. For example, the Perthshire Courier (Scotland) of Thursday 29th April 1841 reported that at the Glasgow assizes, during the trial for the murder of a superintendent of Railway labourers, one […]

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