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(with) tongue in cheek

  The phrase (with) tongue in cheek means in an ironic, or insincere, way. The Scottish author Tobias Smollett (1721-71) used to thrust one’s tongue in one’s cheek to denote a sign of contempt in his picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748); the hero has just captured and handed over a highwayman and returns to the coach in which he is travelling: When I had […]

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cut and dried

cut and dried

  It is a circumstance rather remarkable, that the answer to Sir George Rodney’s summons of surrender, given by the respective Dutch Governours of the Islands of St. Eustatius and St. Martin’s, should be couched exactly in the same form of words without the smallest variation; from this we are either to suppose, that the […]

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Kindertransport

Kindertransport

  Let them smile and play again Save 1,000 Refugee Children on ‘MOTHERS’ DAY’ MAY 20TH IN SHEFFIELD ‘Mothers’ Day’ is the day appointed for a great and special effort in support of the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees—to rescue another 500 Christian and 500 Jewish children. Please do your very best to make your local […]

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to read the riot act

    The phrase to read the riot act, or Riot Act, means to strongly reprimand, especially with a view to putting a stop to unacceptable conduct. The Riot Act was an Act of Parliament passed by the British government in 1714 (and not in 1715 as indicated in the Oxford English Dictionary – 3rd […]

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bag of mystery

bag of mystery

Roast Donkey!—Everybody who has eaten roast donkey has pronounced it excellent (says a writer in Macmillan’s Magazine for October). In flavour it is said to resemble turkey, though the colour is considerably darker. The accomplished gourmet is aware what animal it is that contributes most largely to the composition of the best sausages in the […]

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peaceable kingdom

peaceable kingdom

  one of the versions of The Peaceable Kingdom (circa 1834), by Edward Hicks image: National Gallery of Art (Washington DC)       The expression peaceable kingdom, in the sense of a state of harmony among all creatures as prophesied in the Book of Isaiah, 11:1-9, first appeared in the King James Version (1611):   […]

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heart of oak

heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is […]

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the Christmas Truce of 1914

the Christmas Truce of 1914

  A SKETCH OF THE UNOFFICIAL CHRISTMAS TRUCE. An artist’s impression of an incident described in a soldier’s letter: “One of our fellows then filled his pockets with fags and got over the trench. The German got over his trench, and right enough, they met half-way and shook hands, Fritz taking the fags and giving […]

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the Cat-and-Mouse Act

the Cat-and-Mouse Act

  the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 – image: www.parliament.uk     The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act, 1913 was rushed through Parliament by Herbert Henry Asquith’s Liberal government in order to deal with the problem of hunger-striking suffragettes, who were force-fed, which led to a public outcry. The Act allowed for the early release of a […]

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not a cat in hell’s chance

not a cat in hell’s chance

  Jackson’s Oxford Journal – 29th September 1753       The phrase not a cat in hell’s chance, which means no chance at all, is puzzling. 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 could find is from Jackson’s […]

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