Tag Archives: sayings-phrases

(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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dressed to the nines

dressed to the nines

  We’ll show her dressed to the nines, posing with a tribe of gypsies in the Pyrenees illustration by Steven Spurrier for The Vanishing Star. A Comedy of Love and Strategy in Hollywood, by Reita Weiman, published in Britannia and Eve (London) of December 1932     The phrase dressed to the nines means dressed very elaborately or smartly. It is […]

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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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to cut both ways

    The phrase to cut both ways means: – of a point or statement: to serve both sides of an argument, – of an action or process: to have both good and bad effects. It refers to a sword which has two cutting edges, as is clear from its first known use, in Priest-Craft, […]

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cut and dried

cut and dried

  It is a circumstance rather remarkable, that the answer to Sir George Rodney’s summons of surrender, given by the respective Dutch Governours of the Islands of St. Eustatius and St. Martin’s, should be couched exactly in the same form of words without the smallest variation; from this we are either to suppose, that the […]

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the cup that cheers

the cup that cheers

    The phrase the cup that cheers but not inebriates and its variants refer to tea as a drink which invigorates a person without causing drunkenness. It is from The Winter Evening, the fourth book of The Task. A Poem, in six Books (1785), by the English poet and letter-writer William Cowper (1731-1800): Now […]

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curate’s egg

curate’s egg

    The phrase curate’s egg means something that has both good and bad characteristics or parts. It is an allusion to True Humility, a cartoon by George du Maurier*, published in Punch, or the London Charivari of 9th November 1895. This cartoon depicts a meek curate who, having been served a stale egg while […]

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hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

    The phrase hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is a misquotation from The mourning bride, a tragedy by the English playwright and poet William Congreve (1670-1729), produced and published in 1697: Vile and ingrate! too late thou shalt repent The base Injustice thou hast done my Love. Yes, thou shalt know, […]

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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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