Tag Archives: Scotland
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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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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auld lang syne

auld lang syne

  Old Long Syne – broadside ballad (probably 1701)     The Scots lang syne means long since, long ago. Conversely, short syne means a short time ago, recently. Especially in recalling old experiences shared with friends, auld lang syne, literally old long-ago, is used as a noun to mean the years of long ago, old times, memories […]

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you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

    The proverb you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear means you can’t create a fine product from inferior materials. It originated in Scotland, according to its first recorded instance, in A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699), by “B. E. Gent.”: Luggs, Ears: Hence to Lug by […]

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who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother?

who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother?

  crossword in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury of 23rd January 1950 30 across: The cat’s mother? (3).       The phrase who’s ‘she’—the cat’s mother? and variants are said to a person, especially a child, who uses the feminine third person singular pronoun impolitely or with inadequate reference. The earliest use of […]

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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 […]

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Rotten Row

Rotten Row

  the Rotten-row in Glasgow, circa 1570 image: The Glasgow Story     The street name Rotten Row occurs in many different towns. For example, The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) of 10th December 1728 published the following advertisement: There is just come to Leith, a Parcel of fine Figs both in Casks and Frails [= baskets], which will be sold there at […]

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of mice and men

of mice and men

  Of Mice and Men (1937), by John Steinbeck – first edition cover designed by George Salter     The words man and mouse have been used in alliterative association in: – neither man nor mouse, to mean not a living creature, great or small, – mouse and man, or mice and men, to mean every living thing. The first known user of neither man nor […]

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cock-and-bull story

cock-and-bull story

  Democritus Junior (Robert Burton) from the frontispiece to the 1628 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy       The phrase cock-and-bull story denotes an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. The French expression sauter du coq à l’âne, literally to jump from the cock to the (male) ass, means to skip from one subject to […]

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