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to miss the bus

to miss the bus

  The phrase to miss the bus, or the boat, etc., means to be too slow to take advantage of an opportunity. In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explained: This expression is said to originate in an Oxford story of the 1840s about John Henry Newman, fellow of Oriel College, vicar of the University […]

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pandemonium

pandemonium

  Charles Macklin (circa 1792), by John Opie image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   a place or state of utter confusion and uproar     ORIGIN   In Paradise Lost (1667), the English poet John Milton (1608-74) invented the word Pandæmonium, with a capital P, as the name for the capital of Hell, containing the […]

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beyond the pale

beyond the pale

    MEANING   outside the limits of social convention     ORIGIN   The primary meanings of the noun pale are a wooden stake or post used with others to form a fence and a wooden fence made of stakes driven into the ground. This word appeared in the late 14th century and is […]

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clock – cloak

clock – cloak

  cloak: twin roses designs     The nouns clock and cloak are doublets, or etymological twins: they are of the same derivation but have different forms and meanings. Despite the notion of ‘two’ implied by doublet, the term is also applied to sets of more than two words. In this case, cloche, a borrowing from French, must be added to clock and cloak.   […]

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strawberry preacher

    In A notable Sermō of yᵉ reuerende father Maister Hughe Latemer, whiche he preached in yᵉ Shrouds at paules churche in Londō, on the .xviii. daye of January. 1548., Hugh Latimer (circa 1485-1555), English Protestant prelate and martyr, thus criticised the members of the clergy who did not reside in the places required […]

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to smell a rat

    MEANING   to detect something suspicious     ORIGIN   The first known use of this phrase is in The Image of Ipocrysy, an anonymous poem written around 1540, denouncing “the cruell clergy”: (published in 1843) Suche be owr [= our] primates, Our bisshopps and prelates, Our parsons and curates, With other like […]

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the slough of despond

the slough of despond

  The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to That which is to come Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream Wherein is Discovered, The Manner of his setting out, His Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey (1679 edition) – image: The British Library       MEANING   a state of extreme […]

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gas and gaiters

gas and gaiters

  Mysterious appearance of the gentleman in the small-clothes illustration by “PHIZ” for the first edition of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby     “It’s all right, Bertie.” “She loves you still?” “Yes.” “Good.” “She wept on my chest.” “Fine.” “And said she was sorry she had been cross. I said ‘There, there!’ […]

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long (or strong) arm

    MEANING   far-reaching power or influence     ORIGIN   The earlier expression long hands was originally after classical Latin an nescis longas regibus esse manus?, used by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – circa 17 AD) in the epistolary poems Epistulæ Heroidum, (Letters of Heroines). While her husband, King Menelaus, is away, Helen […]

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according to Gunter

according to Gunter

  The Western Daily Press (Bristol, England) – Friday 14th October 1927       MEANING   correctly; reliably (synonym: according to Cocker)     ORIGIN   Edmund Gunter (1581-1626) was a distinguished English mathematician who improved or invented several instruments which bear his name: – Gunter’s chain: a chain of 4 poles’ length used in […]

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