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to sell a pup

to sell a pup

  photograph: Dog-Names-And-More.com     Frequently used in the passive, the phrase to sell someone a pup means to swindle someone, especially by selling something of little worth on its supposed prospective value. And to buy a pup means to be swindled. The expression is first recorded in 1901. That year, several newspapers gave its […]

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brunch

brunch

    A blend of breakfast and lunch, the noun brunch denotes a late morning meal eaten instead of breakfast and lunch. It originated, apparently in the late 19th century, as Oxford University slang and is first recorded in Lunch at Oxford, by Margaret B. Wright, published in The Independent (New York) of Thursday 22nd August 1895: Five students and one stranger sit at table. Behind […]

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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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the cold shoulder

the cold shoulder

    The phrase the cold shoulder denotes a show of intentional and marked coldness or of studied indifference. Because the two earliest instances of this phrase recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition – 1989) are from the Scottish novelist and poet Walter Scott (1771-1832) and do not refer to food, Robert Allen […]

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a cat may look at a king

a cat may look at a king

  Executioner argues with King about cutting off Cheshire Cat’s head – illustration by John Tenniel (1820-1914) for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from.     The phrase a cat may look at a king […]

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to see which way the cat jumps

to see which way the cat jumps

  Tip-Cat in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly (1787 edition)     The phrase to see which way the cat jumps means to see what direction events are taking before committing oneself. One of its earliest instances is from The Berkshire Chronicle of 28th May 1825; an article titled Lord Liverpool and […]

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Disgusted

Disgusted

    The proper noun Disgusted (with initial capital D) was originally used as a self-designation by a member of the public writing anonymously to a newspaper in order to express outrage about a particular issue. The earliest instance of this noun that I found is in the following letter, published in The Merthyr Telegraph, […]

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cat-o’-nine-tails

cat-o’-nine-tails

  cat-o’-nine-tails (1866-79) – photograph: National Maritime Museum     The word cat-o’-nine-tails is first recorded in Love for Love, a comedy written by the English poet and playwright William Congreve (1670-1729) and first performed in 1695. Ben, a young man “half home-bred, and half-Sea-bred”, is speaking to Miss Prue, “a silly, awkard [sic], Country […]

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who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother?

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 […]

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