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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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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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like a cat on hot bricks/on a hot tin roof

like a cat on hot bricks/on a hot tin roof

  poster for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), an American film directed by Richard Brooks, based on the play by Tennessee Williams     The phrase like a cat on hot bricks and its American equivalent like a cat on a hot tin roof mean very agitated or anxious. An earlier form of the phrase was recorded by the English […]

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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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gianduja

gianduja

  Gianduja e Giandujotto (1986), by the Italian artist Walther Jervolino (1944-2012)     The Italian noun gianduia (improperly gianduja) appeared in the 19th century to denote a soft confection made with chocolate and ground hazelnuts, first produced in Turin, the capital of Piedmont, a region in north-western Italy, in the foothills of the Alps. […]

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wouldn’t say boo to a goose

wouldn’t say boo to a goose

  photograph: Blackwells farm shop     The phrase wouldn’t say boo to a goose is used to emphasise that someone is very timid. Here, boo is not an expression of disapproval but a later form of bo, an exclamation intended to frighten. In Notes and Queries of 10th September 1870, the English philologist Walter William Skeat (1835-1912) wrote: “Cry Bo to a Goose” This has […]

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sanglier

sanglier

  original illustration for Of the Swine in The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658), by Edward Topsell     The French masculine noun sanglier denotes a full-grown wild boar. It literally means a boar living on its own, separated from the herd, since, via Old and Middle French forms such as sengler and […]

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