Tag Archives: USA
trick or treat

trick or treat

  London Weekend Television logo       Originally North American, the phrase trick or treat is a traditional formula used at Hallowe’en by children who call on houses threatening to play a trick unless given a treat or present. It is recent, since it is first recorded in The Lethbridge Herald (Alberta, Canada) of […]

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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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happy as a clam

happy as a clam

  cherrystone or hardshell clam – photograph: The Fish Society     The phrase (as) happy as a clam means well pleased, quite contented. In Allen’s Dictionary of English Phrases (2008), Robert Allen explains: This American simile is more understandable in its full form, happy as a clam in high water (or at high tide). In these conditions, clams are able to feed and are […]

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human bean

human bean

  The term human bean is a humorous alteration or mispronunciation of human being, frequently used as part of an extended pun relating to beans. It is first recorded in Punch, or The London Charivari (1842): This little wretch is exciting the most intense interest, (Faugh!) and we have bribed the authorities in all directions […]

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to nail (to the counter)

to nail (to the counter)

  Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould (1844-1925), cartoonist and journalist – image: National Portrait Gallery     The verb nail is used to mean to expose or reveal the falsehood of an allegation, assertion, etc., especially to prevent further dissemination. This use is first recorded in An Oration delivered at the Celebration in Philadelphia of the 106th Anniversary of the Birthday […]

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to miss the bus

to miss the bus

  The phrase to miss the bus, or the boat, etc., means to be too slow to take advantage of an opportunity. In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explained: This expression is said to originate in an Oxford story of the 1840s about John Henry Newman, fellow of Oriel College, vicar of the University […]

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tell that to the marines

tell that to the marines

  “HUNS KILL WOMEN AND CHILDREN!” “TELL THAT TO THE MARINES!” First-World-War US recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg image: Disappearing Idioms This poster, which attracted a great deal of attention, portrays an angry-looking young man in the act of pulling off his coat as though he were anxious to get into a fight. The headline […]

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Richard Snary

Richard Snary

  John Taylor (1578-1653), by Edward Harding image: National Portrait Gallery       The term Richard Snary is an alteration, with humorous substitution of Richard for the pet-form Dick, of Dick Snary, itself a humorous remodelling of dictionary. These terms are first recorded in Apollo shrouing composed for the schollars of the free-schoole of […]

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to paint the town red

to paint the town red

    Spree at Melton Mowbray. Larking at the Grantham Toll-Gate. Or Coming in for the Brush. A Society of Distinguished Painters, Who Hunt with Fox Hounds, Live Splendidly and only Paint at Night. date: unknown – by Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851)     The colloquial phrase to paint the town red means to enjoy oneself flamboyantly, to go on […]

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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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