Tag Archives: law

(with) tongue in cheek

  The phrase (with) tongue in cheek means in an ironic, or insincere, way. The Scottish author Tobias Smollett (1721-71) used to thrust one’s tongue in one’s cheek to denote a sign of contempt in his picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748); the hero has just captured and handed over a highwayman and returns to the coach in which he is travelling: When I had […]

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Teddy boy

Teddy boy

  Grown-up Teddy boys SHOWADDYWADDY, who put fifties rock ’n’ roll and that era’s Teddy Boy look into the seventies pop scene are back on vinyl – and on compact disc too – with a new single, Why, on Tiger Records, and a compilation hits album and cassette, The Best Steps To Heaven. It’s also […]

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to read the riot act

    The phrase to read the riot act, or Riot Act, means to strongly reprimand, especially with a view to putting a stop to unacceptable conduct. The Riot Act was an Act of Parliament passed by the British government in 1714 (and not in 1715 as indicated in the Oxford English Dictionary – 3rd […]

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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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heart of oak

heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is […]

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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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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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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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‘posh’

‘posh’

  One of the earliest instances of posh is from a cartoon in Punch, or The London Charivari of 25th September 1918. An RAF officer is talking to his mother: “Oh, yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there.” “Whatever do you mean by ‘posh,’ Gerald?” “Don’t you know? It’s slang for ‘swish’*!” [* swish: impressively smart and fashionable]   […]

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to lark about

to lark about

  skylark – photograph: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds     The phrasal verb lark about (or around) means to enjoy oneself by behaving in a playful and mischievous way. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary – 1st edition, 1902) indicates the following about the verb lark: The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it […]

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