Tag Archives: military
Kilkenny cats

Kilkenny cats

    Kilkenny cats denotes two cats fabled to have fought until only their tails remained, hence combatants who fight until they annihilate each other, and to fight like Kilkenny cats means to engage in a mutually destructive struggle. (The name Kilkenny denotes both a county in south-eastern Ireland and its chief town.) The earliest mention of Kilkenny cats that I have found […]

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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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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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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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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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earthling

earthling

  cover of Thrilling Wonder Stories (August 1951)     The noun earthling is composed of earth and the suffix -ling, meaning, in this case, a person belonging to. In science fiction, it is used by aliens to refer to an inhabitant of the earth. But this noun, which dates back to the late 16th […]

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pour encourager les autres

pour encourager les autres

  The Shooting of Admiral Byng on board the Monarque (1757) unknown engraver – image: National Portrait Gallery     The phrase pour encourager les autres is used, of a punishment or sacrifice, to mean as an example to the others, to deter or encourage the others. This French phrase is composed of pour, in order to, encourager, encourage, and les autres, the […]

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loose cannon

loose cannon

  naval gunnery in the old days An 18-ton gun in action at the bombardment of Alexandria. The gun has just recoiled after firing. No. 1 is “serving the vent.” The sponge end is being passed to be thrust out of the small scuttle in the middle of the port (which is closed as soon […]

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