Tag Archives: animals
on toast

on toast

    The metaphor of food served up on a slice of toast is the origin of the phrase to be had on toast and variants, meaning to be cheated, to be swindled. It is first recorded in The St. James’s Gazette (London) of 6th November 1886: The judges in the High Court are always […]

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to break one’s duck

    In cricket, from the resemblance between the figure 0 and a duck’s egg, the term duck’s egg denotes the zero (i.e. 0) placed against a batsman’s name in the scoring sheet when he fails to score. This was explained in Very Hard Cash (1863), a novel by the English novelist and playwright Charles Reade (1814-84): (1864 edition) “You and I, at Lord’s the […]

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poulet

poulet

  Le billet doux ou la lettre d’amour (circa 1775), by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) source: Wikimedia Commons/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York       MEANING   a love letter     ORIGIN   It is a borrowing from the French noun poulet, literally chicken and chicken meat, used figuratively in the sense of […]

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Georgium Sidus

Georgium Sidus

  Sir John Herschel The announcement last Friday of the death, at the age of 81, of the Rev. Sir John Herschel, Bart., which occurred at Observatory House, Slough, revives a host of memories of 18th century Bath. Sir John Herschel was the great-grandson of Sir William Herschel, the famous astronomer, who discovered from his […]

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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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the penny dropped

the penny dropped

    The British phrase the penny dropped is used to indicate that someone has finally understood or realised something. It was originally used with allusion to the mechanism of a penny-in-the-slot machine. The following, from The Leeds Mercury (Yorkshire) of 30th August 1911, evokes this mechanism: PAPER PENNIES. OTLEY LAD’S PRANK WITH AUTOMATIC MACHINE. […]

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to get the bird

to get the bird

  detail from the frontispiece to The Life of an Actor (1825), by Pierce Egan     The phrase to get, or to give, the bird means to receive, or to show, derision, to be dismissed, or to dismiss. It originated in theatrical slang and referred to the ‘big bird’, that is, the goose, which […]

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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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French pig idioms

French pig idioms

    A violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, […]

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to sweat like a pig

to sweat like a pig

  photograph: Fairhope Farm     The phrase to sweat like a pig means to sweat profusely. The earliest instance that I have found is from The Morning Post (London) of 10th November 1824; during a boxing match “between Ned Turner and Peace Inglis for one hundred pounds a-side”, one Shelton, who waited on Turner, […]

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