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widow’s cruse

widow’s cruse

  The Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta (circa 1630-40), by Bernardo Strozzi (circa 1581-1644) – image: wikiart.org     The noun cruse denotes a small earthenware vessel for liquids. It is of Germanic origin and related to words such as Dutch kroes and Swedish krus, of same meaning. The expression widow’s cruse signifies an […]

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cross my heart (and hope to die)

cross my heart (and hope to die)

    The phrase cross my heart (and hope to die) is used to emphasise the truthfulness and sincerity of what one is saying, from the action of making a small sign of the cross over one’s heart, which sometimes accompanies the words. It seems to have originated in the USA in the second half […]

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to look like something the cat has brought in

to look like something the cat has brought in

  A Tennis Racket – cover of The Judge (New York) of 10th June 1916     The phrase to look, or to feel, like something the cat has brought in means to look, or to feel, exhausted or bedraggled. The earliest instances that I have found are from the USA and date from the […]

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you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

    The proverb you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear means you can’t create a fine product from inferior materials. It originated in Scotland, according to its first recorded instance, in A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699), by “B. E. Gent.”: Luggs, Ears: Hence to Lug by […]

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cold comfort

cold comfort

  AUTHOR OF “COLD COMFORT FARM”: MISS STELLA GIBBONS. Miss Stella Gibbons’s novel has been most favourably reviewed. It is a well-sustained parody of the Loam-and-Love-child school of fiction. from The Sketch (London) of 21st September 1932     The expression cold comfort means inadequate consolation for a misfortune. The adjective cold has long been […]

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as cold as charity

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 means become, […]

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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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