Tag Archives: sayings-phrases
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 […]

Continue Reading
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 […]

Continue Reading
Our lunatic contributor

Our lunatic contributor

  Ernest Weekley circa 1935       In the chapter Our lunatic contributor of Words and names (1933), the British philologist Ernest Weekley (1865-1954) wrote: The correspondence columns of our middlebrow weeklies and of our two Sunday papers are the happy hunting-ground of the amateur etymologist. A few years ago he published the discovery […]

Continue Reading
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 […]

Continue Reading
black sheep

black sheep

  photograph: Hill Farm, Abermule     MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it     ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth […]

Continue Reading
to be barking up the wrong tree

to be barking up the wrong tree

    Fess Parker (1924-2010) wearing a coonskin cap in Walt Disney’s 1950s television series Davy Crockett – photograph: AP       MEANING   to be pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action     ORIGIN   In Americanisms, Old and New. A Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Colloquialisms peculiar to the […]

Continue Reading
you can’t have your cake and eat it

you can’t have your cake and eat it

  title page of The Scourge of Folly (1611?), by John Davies of Hereford     The proverb you can’t have your cake and eat it (too) means you can’t enjoy both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives. It made more sense in its early formulations, when the positions of have and eat had not been reversed. It is first recorded in A dialogue […]

Continue Reading
virtus dormitiva

virtus dormitiva

  Molière dans le rôle de César dans La Mort de Pompée de Corneille (circa 1650) par Nicolas Mignard (1606-68) – image: Musée Carnavalet     This Latin expression is composed of virtus, virtue, and dormitiva, feminine of dormitivus, dormitive. It first appeared in the following lines in dog Latin of Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary […]

Continue Reading
of that kidney

of that kidney

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     The word kidney, which is attested around 1325, is of unclear origin. The second element of the Middle-English form kidenei, plural kideneiren, is apparently ey, plural eyren, meaning egg (cf. German Eier, literally eggs, used to mean testicles). The first element remains uncertain; it is perhaps identical with cud. The Anglo-Saxon name for kidney was cropp. The word kidney, […]

Continue Reading
admirable Crichton

admirable Crichton

  biography of, and eulogy to, James Crichton of Clunie in Heroes ex omni historia Scotica lectissimi (1603)     James Crichton of Clunie (circa 1560-1582) was a Scottish prodigy of intellectual and knightly accomplishments, and the epithet admirable became traditionally applied to him. The Scottish scholar John Johnston (circa 1565-1611) used the Latin adjective admirabilis in Heroes ex omni historia Scotica […]

Continue Reading
1...34567...38

Unblog.fr | Créer un blog | Annuaire | Signaler un abus