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The Cat's Pyjamas

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Kitkat
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The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by Kitkat on Fri 23 Sep 2016, 17:29

... or to be more precise:

'Spilling the beans on the cat's pyjamas: Popular expressions - what they mean and where we got them'


is the title of a book I'm currently reading. 


The title is self-explanatory.  Written by Judy Parkinson, author of 'I Before E (Except After C)', this extract from the Foreword to the book gives an idea of what it's all about:

The English language has flourished over the centuries.  Some turns of phrase are 'as old as Methuselah' - our ever flexible language often revives phrases that we thought had 'bitten the dust' - and new words and expressions creep into the lexicon all the time.  There's a different 'flavour of the month' for each generation.

So 'strike while the iron's hot; if you want 'to bone up' on the origins of some of the curiosities of the English language, 'take a dekko' through these pages and you'll be 'in seventh heaven'.

This book is 'the bee's knees', 'the cat's whiskers' and 'the cat's pyjamas', all rolled into one, as it 'spills the beans' on the origins of all these expressions and many more.

I will 'make no bones' about it and I won't 'beat about the bush' (after all, don't forget I'm 'talking turkey' here):  this book contains some fascinating and remarkable stories about our best-loved and most colourful phrases.

The staples of our language - those familiar, well-worn expressions and clichés - originate from the most diverse sources.  From the high street to Homer, from advertising to America, from army to air force, from stage to screen ... it's an 'all-singing', all-dancing', round-the-world-trip through our language's history.

......... >>>

The pages of this book are filled with explanations and origins of these expressions that we use every day.
I'm going to take an example of one each day to post up here, starting with:
(I think the last suggestion given is the most likely one)

ALL TICKETY-BOO

There are many synonymous phrases for this enthusiastic statement that everything is 'fine and dandy'.

'Tickety-boo' may come from the word 'ticket', as in 'that's the ticket'.  In the nineteenth century, charities issued tickets to the poor that could be exchange for soup, clothing and coal.

Other sources suggest that the phrase has its origins with the British Army in India, and that it may be an Anglicized version of the Hindi phrase tikai babu, which means 'it's all right, sir'.
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Another nail in the coffin

Post by Kitkat on Sat 24 Sep 2016, 19:22

ANOTHER NAIL IN THE COFFIN

A depressing phrase which is applied to a development that makes a situation progressively worse; one more factor to plunge a person into great disfavour, to hasten his dismissal, downfall or death.  The final nail can be compared with 'the last straw'.

Peter Pindar (Dr J. Wolcot, 1738-1819) wrote in one of his Expostulary Odes (1782):  'Care to our coffin adds a nail, no doubt.'


The phrase was also adopted by smokers.  As early as the 1920s, they referred to cigarettes as 'coffin nails', and this expression became the stock response whenever someone accepted yet another cigarette.

At the time, they were referring to the hazards of a smoker's cough; the links between smoking, cancer and heart disease were only recognised later (when cigarettes earned another nickname - 'cancer sticks').
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Bite the bullet

Post by Kitkat on Sun 25 Sep 2016, 21:07

TO BITE THE BULLET

To undertake the most challenging part of a feat of endurance, to face danger with courage and fortitude, to behave stoically or to knuckle down to some difficult or unpleasant task.

The expression originated in field surgery before the use of anaesthetics.  A surgeon about to operate on a wounded soldier would give him a bullet to bite on, both to distract him from the pain and to make him less likely to cry out.
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On the nail

Post by Kitkat on Mon 26 Sep 2016, 18:04

ON THE NAIL

This is a very old phrase meaning to pay immediately or on the spot.  Generally, it means 'now', 'at once', 'exactly' or 'dead on'.

In medieval times, a nail was a shallow vessel mounted on a post or stand and business deals were closed by payments placed in the 'nail'.  It is said that if a buyer was satisfied with the sample of grain shown on the nail, he paid on the spot.

Outside the Bristol Corn Exchange, such nails can still be seen in the form of four bronze pillars.
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To run the gauntlet

Post by Kitkat on Thu 29 Sep 2016, 16:09

TO RUN THE GAUNTLET

To be attacked on all sides or, in modern use, to be severely criticized or to try to extracate oneself from a situation while under attack on all sides.

The expression appeared in English at the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-48) as 'gantlope', meaning the passage between two files of soldiers.  It is an amalgamation of the Swedish words galop (passageway), gata (way), and lop (course).

'Running the gauntlet' was a form of punishment said to have originated in Sweden amongst soldiers and sailors.  The compan or crew, armed with whips, thongs or rods, were assembled in two facing rows, and the miscreant had to run the course between them, while each man dealt him as severe a blow as he thought befitted the misdemeanour.

Native Americans also had a similar, more brutal, form of retribution, because here the victim was not intended to survive the blows he suffered during his run.
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To be given the third degree

Post by Kitkat on Fri 30 Sep 2016, 15:49

TO BE GIVEN THE THIRD DEGREE

This is to be the object of detailed questioning to get to the bottom of an inquiry, whether it be criminal or general.

One possible source of the phrase is Free Masonry, where the third degree is the highest level of membership.  Those wishing to be considered as Master Masons must sit an intensive exam with interrogatory-style questions.

In America, the term is applied to the use by the police of exhaustive questioning to extract a confession or incriminating information from a suspect, criminal, accomplice or witness.

'Third-degree treatment' is also used as a euphemism for torture.
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To give short shrift

Post by Kitkat on Sun 02 Oct 2016, 14:01

TO GIVE SHORT SHRIFT

To treat someone peremptorily and unsympathetically, without heeding any mitigating arguments, or simply to make short work of something.

Shrift is defined as a confession to a priest.  'Short shrift' originally referred to the limited amount of time given to a convict between condemnation, confession and absolution, and then finally execution.
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Here's mud in your eye!

Post by Kitkat on Mon 03 Oct 2016, 22:29

HERE'S MUD IN YOUR EYE!

A drinking toast, the sentiments of which could be read either way.  One niterpretation is that it is to wish good fortune, as it was used in the trenches of the First World War when soldiers would naturally rather mud was thrown in their eye than anything more lethal.

Another, somewhat less good-natured, theory comes from horse racing, in which, with one's own horse out in front, it will be kicking mud into the eyes of the slower runners behind.

The phrase itself is thought to originate from a Bible story - featured in chapter nine of the Gospel of St John - when Jesus puts mud in the eyes of a blind man and restores his sight.
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Break a leg!

Post by Kitkat on Wed 05 Oct 2016, 10:30

BREAK A LEG!

The theatre is notoriously superstitious, and among actors it is deemed bad luck to wish a colleague 'good luck' before going on stage.  Instead, this phrase - a traditional, if somewhat black, euphemism - is employed to wish someone luck in a performance, especially on opening night.

There are a number of possible sources for the expression and the earliest recorded use is in fact German; Luftwaffe pilots in the Second World War would send each other off to fight with the cheery saying 'Hals und Beinbruch', meaning 'break your neck and leg'.

The phrase was also used in English around this time to mean 'make a strenuous effort', so it may have simply been an instruction to put on the best show you possibly could.

A more fanciful explanation is that the saying came from the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) in his private box at Ford's Theatre, Washington, DC, on 14 April 1865.

The murderer, John Wilkes Booth (1838-65), a reputable Shakespearean actor, escaped after firing the shot by leaping down on to the stage, breaking his leg in the process.
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No room to swing a cat

Post by Kitkat on Thu 06 Oct 2016, 21:37

NO ROOM TO SWING A CAT

A commonly used description for a restricted or cramped space.

There are various suggested origins for this phrase, 'cat' was an abbreviation for 'cat-o-nine-tails', a whip of nine knotted lashes or 'tails', which from the eighteenth century was used in the army and navy, as well as on criminals in gaol, and was not formally banned in England as an instrument of punishment until 1948. Since space was restricted on sailing ships, whippings were carried out on deck, as there was 'no room to swing a cat' elsewhere on board.

However, while this may seem the most likely origin, 'cat' is also an old Scottish word for a rogue, and if the expression derives from this, the swing is that of the condemned criminal hanging from the gallows.

Equally, suspending live cats in leather sacks and then swinging the sacks as moving targets for archers angry was once a popular, if barbaric, amusement, and this too has been suggested as a source for the phrase.
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Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by Stardust on Fri 07 Oct 2016, 09:36

Kitkat wrote:
NO ROOM TO SWING A CAT
Equally, suspending live cats in leather sacks and then swinging the sacks as moving targets for archers  was once a popular, if barbaric, amusement, and this too has been suggested as a source for the phrase.



HELP! Are you sure they don't do that any more, Kitkat? Can I come out of hiding?


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Be grateful for even the smallest thing, blessings come in many disguises.
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Straight from the horse's mouth

Post by Kitkat on Fri 07 Oct 2016, 18:01

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH

Some knowledge received direct from the highest authority, from the person whose word need not be doubted.

The expression comes from horseracing, where the tips to be trusted came from those closest to the breeders and trainers.  The phrase implies that you've heard something from the best possible source - in this case, the horse itself.

A variation on this as a source is the idea that the true age of a horse can be ascertained by an examination of its mouth.  The first permanent horse teeth appear in the centre of the jaw at the age of two and a half.  A year later, a second pair appears, and at between four and five years, the third pair appears.

So, no matter what an owner may say about a horse's age, the evidence is in the horse's mouth.
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To pass the buck

Post by Kitkat on Sat 08 Oct 2016, 16:19

TO PASS THE BUCK

To evade blame or responsibility and shift all criticism elsewhere. An American phrase from the game of poker, the 'buck' being the token object that is passed to the person whose turn it is to deal the next hand.

Originally, the token was a buckhorn knife, so called because its handle was made from the horn of a buck, or male deer (although some sources argue that the buck was either a piece of buckshot or a buck's tail, which early hunters carried as a talisman).

The earliest recorded use of the phrase is by Mark Twain (1835-1910) in 1872, in the first decade after the end of the American Civil War (1861-65), when poker or 'stud poker' - the stake was probably orignally a stud horse - were played in bars by lumberjacks, miners and hunters,those being the days before it became known as a 'gentleman's' game.



THE BUCK STOPS HERE

A declaration meaning 'this is where ultimate responsibility lies'.

The most likely origin for the phrase is the poker table, where a buckhorn knife was placed before the player whose turn it was to deal.  'Passing the buck' meant passing responsiiblity on to the next player.

The phrase was made famous by us President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972); president 1945-53), who had it handwritten on a sign on his desk at the White House to remind himself and those around him that he alone had the ultimate responsibility for every decision of his administration.

Some twenty-five years later, President Jimmy Carter (1924-) had the legend reinstated with the same idea in mind.
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As happy as a sandboy

Post by Kitkat on Sun 09 Oct 2016, 20:11

AS HAPPY AS A SANDBOY

This means to be very happy or in high spirits.

It is a traditional expression from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when sandboys or sandmen drove their donkeys through the streets selling bags of sand taken from beaches.  The sand was used by householders for their gardens, by builders, and by publicans for sanding their floors.

The merriness of the sandboys was probably due, in some part, to the temptation of spending their takings in the hostelries to which they delivered the sand.
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To come up to scratch

Post by Kitkat on Mon 10 Oct 2016, 17:16

TO COME UP TO SCRATCH

To be good enough to pass a test; to make the grade. This is a colloquialism from the boxing ring dating back to the nineteenth century.

Under the London Prize Ring Rules introduced in 1839, a round in a prizefight ended when one of the fighters was knocked down.  After an interval of thirty seconds, the floored fighter was given eight seconds to make his way, unaided, to a mark scratched in the centre of the ring.

If he failed to reach the mark, he had not 'come up to scratch' and was declared the loser of the bout.
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To paint the town red

Post by Kitkat on Tue 11 Oct 2016, 13:19

TO PAINT THE TOWN RED

To go out and party, to let your hair down and enjoy an uninhibited celebration, to trip the light fantastic, perhaps even to cause some disturbance in town.

This phrase, thought to have originated in America in the 1880s, may be an allusion to a town's red-light district, that is, the area where prostitutes ply their trade, advertising with red lights in the windows of their brothels, and where rogues might begin the evening before later extending the party to the rest of town.

Alternatively, it may have been a euphemism for a rowdy night in which blood would be spilt.
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Cat got your tongue?

Post by Kitkat on Wed 12 Oct 2016, 22:40

CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE?

A question directed at a silent partner in a conversation to ask why they're not speaking.

The earliest written example appeared in 1911, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but it may have been around since the mid nineteenth century.

As to its origins, numerous theories abound; none firmly proved.  Some argue that it must stem from ancient Middle Eastern punishment techniques, when liars' tongues were ripped out and then fed to kings' cats; while others cite the much-feared whip the 'cat-o'-nine-tails' as the source of the phrase, insinuating that this nasty weapon, used to flog sailors, forced them into silence - both through fear and pain.
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Hue and cry

Post by Kitkat on Thu 13 Oct 2016, 11:18

HUE AND CRY

A noisy commotion over some spot of bother.

The phrase must have been in use since the beginning of the last millennium because the Norman French word huer means 'to shout'.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, 'hue and cry' was the old legal term for an official outcry made when calling out for assistance, 'with horn and with voice', in the pursuit of a suspected criminal escaping arrest.  All able-bodied men were legally required to join the pursuit - if they refused, they risked being held liable for any theft committed by the fleeing felon.  Thieves failing to respond to the 'hue and cry' were liable to greater penalties once they were caught.

We now chiefly use the phrase to describe the way the news media clamour for someone to be held responsible for high-profile crimes or political mistakes.
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To steal someone else's thunder

Post by Kitkat on Fri 14 Oct 2016, 11:27

TO STEAL SOMEONE ELSE'S THUNDER

To adopt someone else's own special methods or ideas as if they were one's own.  The story behind the origin of this phrase was recounted by the eighteenth-century actor-manager, playwright annd Poet Laureate Colley Cibber (1671-1757) in his Lives of the Poets (1753), and was also mentioned by Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in his poem The Dunciad (1728).

Legend has it that John Dennis (1657-1734), an actor-manager of the early part of the eighteenth century, had invented a machine to make stage thunder, which he employed in his own play, Appius and Virginia, performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1709.

However, Mr Dennis, whatever his inventive talents, was not a particularly gifted playwright; the play did not fill the house and was soon taken off in favour of a production of Macbeth by another company.

Dennis went to their opening night and was astonished to hear his thunder machine in action.  He leapt to his feet and shouted, 'That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder but not my play!'

Since the eighteenth century, the phrase has subsequently been refined to become 'to steal one's thunder'.

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Still waters run deep

Post by Kitkat on Sat 15 Oct 2016, 11:59

STILL WATERS RUN DEEP

However quiet or calm someone may seem on the surface, do not be deceived; there is probably great depth of knowledge, personality or a hot temper lurking below.

This is a Latin proverb, thought to come from Cato's Morals.  The version we use today was first printed in an anonymously authored Middle English verse work 'Cursor Mundi' ('Runner of the World'; c.1300), which includes the line:  'There the flode is deppist the water standis stillist.'

The Malayan proverb, 'Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm', means much the same.

It is never a good idea to show off or talk too much, because as everyone knows, empty vessels make the most noise.  Speech is silver, but silence is golden.
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Back to square one

Post by Kitkat on Mon 17 Oct 2016, 11:30

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

To begin again, or, less formally, 'Back to where  you started, sunshine!'  This colloquialism possibly derives from board games like snakes and ladders, in which players, through bad luck or poor judgement, have to move their pieces back to the starting point.

Another suggestion is that it comes from the early days of radio football commentaries, when diagrams of the pitch, divided into numbered squares, were printed in radio listings magazines so that listeners could follow the game.

The expression's meaning is similar to 'Back to the drawing board', which means to go back and rethink a complete project or scheme.  Aircraft designers during the Second World War used this phrase when a concept or even a whole design for a new machine proved unworkaable and had to be started all over again.
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To bark up the wrong tree

Post by Kitkat on Tue 18 Oct 2016, 11:21

TO BARK UP THE WRONG TREE

To be totally off the mark, to waste energy following the wrong course of action, or to have one's attention diverted off the subject in hand.  The phrase dates back to the 1800s and neatly puns a dog's bark with tree bark.

Its origins stem from the American sport of raccoon hunting.  The hounds of the hunting pack are trained to mark the tree in which the raccoon they are pursuing takes shelter, and then to howl at its base until their master arrives to shoot the animal.  The hounds may bark up at the wrong tree, however, if the raccoon has managed to evade them.

The expression first became popular in the early nineteenth century, appearing in the works of James Hall (1793-1868), Davy Cockett (1786-1836) - himself a great raccoon hunter - and Albert Pike (1809-91).

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A feather in one's cap

Post by Kitkat on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 11:35

A FEATHER IN ONE'S CAP

A personal achievement or honour to be proud of.  The feather is a proud and visible emblem of victory and the gesture of putting a feather in your hat is almost universal in one form or another.

There is an ancient custom, widespread in Asia, among Native Americans and throughout Europe, of adding a feather to one's headgear to mark each enemy killed.   Even today, a sportsman who kills his first woodcock puts a feather from the bird in his hat.

At one time in Hungary, the only people who could wear feathers were those who had killed Turks.
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To come a cropper

Post by Kitkat on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 12:09

TO COME A CROPPER

To fall heavily, head over heels, or to fail ignominiously.

The origin probably lies in the old term for the hindquarters of a horse, the croup or crupper.  If you fell from a horse in the eighteenth century, you were said to have fallen neck and crop, which came to be used colloquially to mean headlong or head over heels.  So to fall to the ground neck and crop is to 'come a cropper'.

We now use the phrase to mean 'to get into trouble' or 'to fail', rather than literally 'to fall'.
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According to plan

Post by Kitkat on Fri 21 Oct 2016, 10:29

ACCORDING TO PLAN

A familiar expression that is frequently used ironically to describe things that did not go according to plan.

It derives from falsely upbeat communiqués issued during the First World War, often after a particularly bloody or shambolic operation; with the result that the phrase became associated with official attempts to cover up military incompetence and confusion.

Such inverted use of language creates a coded understanding between those 'in the know', strengthening the sense of camaraderie among those who suffer from such plans.
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All tarred with the same brush

Post by Kitkat on Sat 22 Oct 2016, 10:38

ALL TARRED WITH THE SAME BRUSH

Everyone in the group shares the same failings; they're all sheep of the same flock.  This old saying alludes to the methods used by farmers to mark their sheep.  A brush dipped in tar was applied to the wool as a form of branding.

The phrase is now often used when people feel they have been lumped in with others and judged unfairly as a result.
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To beat about the bush

Post by Kitkat on Sun 23 Oct 2016, 13:08

TO BEAT ABOUT THE BUSH

To approach a matter indirectly or in a roundabout way.

The expression has evolved from early hunting methods for catching birds.  One team of hunters would approach the birds hiding in the undergrowth from the sides, so as to drive them into the path of another team, who would catch them with nets as they took off.

This task of literally beating the bushes in which the birds take shelter is still an important part of pheasant shooting today.

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By a long chalk

Post by Kitkat on Mon 24 Oct 2016, 15:27

BY A LONG CHALK

This is a sporting expression and means to win easily, far ahead of the competition.

Before lead pencils became common, merit marks or scores used to be made with chalk:  In a game of skittles or darts, for example, individual points were referred to as a 'chalk'; a long chalk, therefore, is a high score.
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To blow the gaff

Post by Kitkat on Tue 25 Oct 2016, 11:48

TO BLOW THE GAFF

A slang phrase meaning to reveal a secret, which may derive from the French gaffe, a blunder, but is more likely to come from 'gab', the informal English word for 'speech', which in turn derives from 'gob' meaning 'mouth' or 'beak' (the expression 'gift of the gab' comes from the same source).

Current in the eighteenth century was the slang expression 'to blow the gab', meaning to betray a secret.

'Gaff' is also archaic English slang for someone's home, as in:  'Let's go round to his gaff.'

A more colourful derivation may be that 'to blow the gaff' refers to the exposure of a concealed device, known as a gaff, used to cheat at cards.  This was a small hook set in a ring worn on the finger, which was used by the crooked player to grip the cards.
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Sling your hook!

Post by Kitkat on Wed 26 Oct 2016, 08:58

SLING YOUR HOOK!

A somewhat forceful command urging a person to leave; a way, without resorting to foul language, of asking someone to go away.

The expression is probably of nautical origin and alludes to the anchor, or 'hood', which must be secured in its sling at the bow before the ship can cast off.

Other forms of the expression - 'Hook it!' and 'Take your hook!' - are also used, perhaps to give emphasis to one's wish that a person should leave and set about their business.
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To be on skid row

Post by Kitkat on Thu 27 Oct 2016, 18:55

TO BE ON SKID ROW

An American expression applied to the part of town frequented by vagrants, hobos, alcoholics and down-and-outs.  Hence, if you are 'on the skids', it means that you are on your way to that rather grimy quarter of the city, about to skid off the path of virtue and respectability.

The expression probably comes from the early days of the Seattle timber industry.  A 'skid row' was a row of logs down which other felled timber was slid or skidded.  Tacoma, near Seattle, became prosperous with the growth of the timber industry, and in due course there were plentiful supplies of liquor and brothels in the town, close at hand for lumberjacks working the skid row.
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The hair of the dog

Post by Kitkat on Fri 28 Oct 2016, 13:54

THE HAIR OF THE DOG

This phrase refers to a remedy usually administered to someone with a hangover, after an overindulgence of alcohol the night before.  The theory is that the very thing that causes the malady is the best cure or means of relief, so another drink in the morning is considered by some the best pick-me-up (by others a recipe to make one feel worse, not better).

The general principle that 'like cures like' comes from Roman times, expressed in Latin as similia similibus curantura.

The peculiar 'hair of the dog' phrase perhaps originated in the sixteenth century.  Back then, if one was bitten by a mad dog (which was likely to be suffering from rabies), it was accepted medical practice to dress the wound with the burnt hair of the dog, as an antidote.

Amazingly, this cure was recommended for dog bites for about two hundred years before its efficacy was finally brought into question.





Me:  Even more amazingly, this mythical theory still exists today and believed by many New Agers and self-styled gurus around the world.  
It's currently known as Homeopathy
.


What is Homeopathy?
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Charlie's dead

Post by Kitkat on Sun 30 Oct 2016, 13:11

CHARLIE'S DEAD

A slang euphemism used to indicate that a woman's petticoat is showing below the hem of her skirt.  The phrase was a useful way for ladies to convey to one another that their petticoats were hanging low, without having to state something so indelicate in front of any men present.

The expression has two possible sources, both involving kings.  One is the execution of Charles 1 (1600-49) on 30 January 1649, at which the women in attendance are said to have dipped their petticoats in his blood as a way of honouring him.

The other possibility is that it refers to the habit of flirtatious female fans of the dashing Charles II (1630-85):  they would flash the hems of their petticoats to show how much they admired him.
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On cloud nine

Post by Kitkat on Mon 31 Oct 2016, 12:25

ON CLOUD NINE

To be on cloud nine means to be in a state of elation, very happy indeed, or feeling 'as high as a kite'.

This fanciful twentieth-century expression comes from the terminology used by the United States Weather Bureau.  The Bureau divides clouds into classes, and each class into nine types.

Cloud nine is cumulonimbus, a cumulus cloud that develops to a vast height, with rounded masses of white vapour heaped one on the other; the upper parts resembling the shapes of domes, mountains or towers, while the base is practically horizontal.

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Hung, drawn and quartered

Post by Kitkat on Tue 01 Nov 2016, 17:52

HUNG, DRAWN AND QUARTERED

The correct order for this form of torturous capital punishment was that the victim was 'drawn, hanged, drawn, beheaded and quartered'.  The crime that merited this sort of penalty was high treason against Crown and country.

The guilty were to be 'drawn' to the place of execution on a hurdle or dragged along by horse's tail.  Yet 'drawn' also ment to be disembowelled, and this was added to the punishment in between the hanging stage and the beheading stage.


This was the sentence passed on the Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace (c.1272-1305) in August 1305:  That he should be drawn from the Palace of Westminster to the Tower of London, then hanged until nearly dead, then disembowelled, then beheaded and finally quartered.

His quarters were gibbeted at Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth.
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To kiss the Blarney Stone

Post by Kitkat on Thu 03 Nov 2016, 15:10

TO KISS THE BLARNEY STONE

A popular term used of someone who speaks in persuasive or seductive terms; the verb 'to blarney' meaning to employ persuasive flattery, and the noun 'blarney' for 'flattering talk' have the same derivation.

The provenance for this expression can be found, literally, at Blarney Castle, near Cork, in south-west Ireland.  Set high in the south wall of the castle is an almost inaccessible triangular stone bearing the inscription, Cormac McCarthy fortis me fieri fecit.

The tradition of kissing this Blarney Stone to improve one's eloquence and persuasive abilities - which can only be done by hanging, with one's feet securely held, head-down from the castle's battlements - dates from the eighteenth century.


The story behind the Blarney Stone's legacy is that in 1602, McCarthy, Lord of Blarney, was defending the castle against the English, who were fighting to force him to surrender the fortress and transfer his allegiance to the English crown.

However, McCarthy smooth-talked the British emissary, Sir George Carew (1565-1612), with flattery and sweet promises and stood his ground, much to the fury of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

It is said that the Queen herself coined the term 'blarney' to describe the worthlessness of McCarthy's promises.



I just thought I'd add this little snippet in - just as a precaution for anyone planning to kiss the Blarney Stone at any future date:

(from the Daily Mail - June 2009)

Blarney Stone 'most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world'

The Blarney Stone in Ireland has been named as the most  'unhygienic' tourist  attraction in the world.

It beat off opposition from a wall plastered with thousands of  pieces of discarded chewing gum in the US to take first place in the bizarre awards ceremony.

Organisers said the Blarney Stone, kissed by up to 400,000 people a year, rates as the most germ-filled of attractions  -  although it admitted it had no scientific evidence to back its case.


A tourist kissing the Blarney stone at Blarney Castle in Ireland

Local legend has it that visitors who bend over backwards to kiss the stone built into Blarney Castle, near Cork, Ireland, are rewarded with the 'gift of the gab'.

But internet travel website TripAdvisor.com believes those who kiss the stone are likely to end up with something else other than fluent speech as it is so germ ridden.

A wall outside a theatre in Seattle, Washington, was placed runner-up in the competition.

Since 1990, tens of thousands of people have stuck their unwanted chewing gum to the wall turning it into a tourist attraction.

The disgusting act began with people waiting in line to visit the theatre. The wall has been scrapped clean twice since 1990 but is still covered with gum.

Some visitors have even moulded shapes and faces out of their gum.


A woman kisses the tomb of British 19th century author Oscar Wilde iin Paris

Oscar Wilde's tomb in Paris is the third dirtiest attraction having been covered with lipstick prints.

St Marks Square in Venice, Italy, is fourth due to the thousands of hungry pigeons who descend on the place leaving behind their waste.

The handprints and footprints of stars outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood makes the top five.

According to Tripadvisor the historical Hollywood landmark is covered with grime from the hands of countless visitors who see if their hands and feet match those of the stars.
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A pig in a poke

Post by Kitkat on Fri 04 Nov 2016, 13:41

A PIG IN A POKE

To buy a pig in a poke is to purchase something before you have seen it and verified its worth.

The phrase derives from an ancient form of trickery when animals were traded at market and a small suckling pig was taken for sale in a 'poke' - a word shortened from the word 'pocket' which was a stout sack.

Sales had to be agreed without opening the poke, supposedly for fear of the lively piglet escaping.  Rather, people used the sealed sacks to try to palm off the runts of the litter to unsuspecting buyers, and sometimes even cats were substituted for pigs.

If the less gullible purchaser insisted on seeing the contents of the poke, the salesman might literally have to 'let the cat out of the bag' (hence that other well-known expression), and the game was up.

This form of dodgy market trading has been around for hundreds of years, and is referred to in Thomas Tusser's (1524-80) Five Hundred Good Points of Husbandrie (1580).


The practice was obviously widespread because other languages have similar expressions - such as the French 'chat en poche' - which also refers to the folly of buying something without seeing it first.  The Latin proverb 'caveat emptor' - 'let the buyer beware' - warns against such underhand techniques.

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A pinch of salt

Post by Kitkat on Sat 05 Nov 2016, 18:51

A PINCH OF SALT

To take something with 'a pinch of salt' is to treat information or explanations with great reservation, qualification, scepticism, doubt or disbelief.

A version of this phrase, 'take with a grain of salt', was in use from the seventeenth century, and is thought to stem from the popular notion that taking a small amount of salt with other ingredients was a good antidote for poison.
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Put a sock in it!

Post by Kitkat on Sun 06 Nov 2016, 09:44

PUT A SOCK IN IT!

A plea to be quiet, to shut up, to make less noise.

It comes from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, when the early gramophones, or 'phonographs', had large horns through which the sound was amplified.  These mechanical contraptions had no volume controls, and so a convenient method of reducing the volume was to stuff a woollen sock inside the horn.

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Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by Stardust on Sun 06 Nov 2016, 13:54

This is one we often use. So many people are noisy these days.  annoyed
Now I know the origin, very interesting, thanks Kitkat.  purr


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Be grateful for even the smallest thing, blessings come in many disguises.
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To read the riot act

Post by Kitkat on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 13:04

TO READ THE RIOT ACT

Figuratively, 'to read the riot act' is to attempt to quell chattering and general commotion or misbehaviour, particularly in a group of children, by vigorous and forceful pleas coupled with threats of the consequences if order is not resumed.

The original Riot Act became law in 1715, and stated that when twelve or more people were gathered with the intention of rioting, it was the duty of the magistrates to command them to disperse, and that anyone who continued to riot for one hour afterwards was guilty of a serious criminal offence.  It was not superseded until 1986 when the Public Order Act was introduced.

'To run riot' was originally said of hounds that had lost the scent, and was later applied to any group that behaved in a disorderly or unrestrained way.

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To run salt into the wound

Post by Kitkat on Tue 08 Nov 2016, 12:05

TO RUB SALT INTO THE WOUND

To increase someone's pain or shame.

The phrase alludes to an ancient nautical punishment for misbehaviour by members of a ship's crew.  Errant sailors were flogged on the bare back, and afterwards salt was rubbed into the wounds.  Salt is a well-known antiseptic, so it helped to heal the lacerations, but it also made them much more painful.

An extension of this phrase is the saying 'Don't rub it in', an admission that one may have made a fool of oneself, but people should not carry on reminding one.
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To save one's bacon

Post by Kitkat on Wed 09 Nov 2016, 08:22

TO SAVE ONE'S BACON

To have a narrow escape, to be rescued from some dire situation without injury or loss.

This expression dates from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century when bacon was a significant part of the diet.

According to Nathan Bailey's Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1720, 'bacon' was also a slang term to describe booty of any kind which fell to beggars, petty thieves, highwaymen and the like in their enterprises.  Bacon thus became synonymous with livelihood, so 'to save someone's bacon' there took the meaning 'to save a person'.

'To bring home the bacon', meaning to earn the money to maintain the household, describes the custom at country fares of greasing a live pig and letting it loose among a group of blindfolded contestants.  Whoever successfully caught the greased pig could keep it and so 'bring home the bacon'.

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To send someone to Coventry

Post by Kitkat on Thu 10 Nov 2016, 10:23

TO SEND SOMEONE TO COVENTRY

To refuse to speak to someone, to ostracize a person or to ignore them.

At the time of the Great Rebellion (or English Civil War) between 1642 and 1649, Royalists were often taken to Coventry to be imprisoned.  The story goes that because the city was strongly Protestant and pro-Parliament, the local people would shun the incoming Cavaliers, so when a soldier was sent to Coventry, he would be given 'the cold shoulder'.

Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (1609-74), referred to Royalist prisoners captured in Birmingham who were 'sent to Coventry' - effectively into exile.

To take this a step further, to refuse to have any dealing with a person or group of people as a means of protest or coercion is to 'boycott' them, a term which dates from 1880, when such methods were used by the Irish Land League against one Captain C.C. Boycott (1832-97), a land agent in County Mayo, to try to persuade him to reduce rents.
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Show a leg

Post by Kitkat on Fri 11 Nov 2016, 14:13

SHOW A LEG

The summons to 'show a leg' or 'shake a leg' is a morning wake-up call.  It is a naval phrase and was the traditional alarm call used to rouse the hands from their hammocks.

It comes from the days in the mid nineteenth century when women were allowed to sleep onboard ship when the navy was in port.  At the cry of 'Show a leg!, if a woman's limb was shaken out of the hammock, she was allowed to lie in, but if the hairy leg of a rating appeared, he had to get up and get on with his duties.

Later in the nineteenth century, to 'shake a leg' came to mean 'to dance', while in America it meant 'to hurry up'.
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The bottom line

Post by Kitkat on Sat 12 Nov 2016, 12:49

THE BOTTOM LINE

The main point of an argument, the basic characteristic of something, the actual value of a financial deal, or the nub or truth of the matter.

The phrase itself is an accounting term, and refers to the figure at the end of a financial statement, indicating the net profit or loss of a company.
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To ask something point blank

Post by Kitkat on Sun 13 Nov 2016, 18:51

TO ASK SOMETHING POINT BLANK

To ask a direct question.  This is a sixteenth-century phrase from the sport of archery.  The targets had a white (blanc in French) central spot, so the arrows were pointed at the white, that is point blanc

In military, and especially artillery usage, 'point blanc' is a range at which there is no fall of shot due to gravity - in other words, a very close range.  (Any projectile from a firearm 'drops' from the point of aim as the range increases, which in turn means that the further the target, the higher the weapon has to be aimed above it.)
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The back of beyond

Post by Kitkat on Tue 15 Nov 2016, 12:32

THE BACK OF BEYOND

This is an Australian expression, nineteenth century in origin, which is now commonly used to describe any remote area, but which originally referred to the vast spaces of the interior of the country, the Great Outback.

The 'back', reduced from 'back country' is the outlying territory behind the settled regions, and the term 'backblock' is found in 1850, referring to those territories of Australia split up by the government into blocks for settlement.
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Cock-and-bull story

Post by Kitkat on Wed 16 Nov 2016, 12:26

COCK-AND-BULL STORY

A rambling or incredible tale; a tall story invented as an excuse, a lie.

There are various possible explanations for the derivation of this term.  In the coaching days of the seventeenth century, the London coach changed horses at the Bull Inn and the Birmingham coach at the Cock Inn.  The waiting passengers of both coaches would exchange stories and jokes.  The 'Cock-and-Bull' story is said to have originated from this scenario.  The phrase may derive, however, from ancient fables in which cocks and bulls and other animals conversed.  In his Boyle Lecture of 1692, Richard Bentley (1662-1742) stated:

     That cocks and bulls might discourse, and hinds and panthers hold conferences about religion.

While in his novel Tristram Shandy (1759), Laurence Sterne (1713-68) wrote:

     'L--d'! said my mother.  'What is all this story about?
     'A Cock and Bull,' said Yorick - 'And one of the best of its kind, I have ever heard.'

Today, both words are commonly employed separately in a slang or vulgar context.  'Bull' is used as in 'what a load of bull', politely avoiding saying the word 'bullshit', while 'cock' speaks for itself.

A Scottish satire or lampooning story is known as a 'cockalane', which is taken directly from the French phrase of the same meaning as 'cock and bull': coq et l'ane (cock and ass, donkey or fool).


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Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Kitkat on Thu 17 Nov 2016, 15:27

COLD ENOUGH TO FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY

This means that the weather is extremely cold, and although the expression sounds delightfully vulgar,
it was not in fact originally a reference to monkeys' testicles.



A brass monkey is a type of rack in which cannon balls were stored.  Being brass, the 'monkey' contracted in cold weather, resulting in the cannonballs being ejected.

The expression has also mutated to a shortened form, again a comment on the temperature, as 'brass monkey weather'.


    Current date/time is Fri 20 Oct 2017, 17:19