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At full tilt

Post by Kitkat on Sat 18 Feb 2017, 11:58

AT FULL TILT

At full speed or with full force.

The expression probably originated in the fourteenth century, when 'tilting at the quintain' was a popular sport among medieval knights.  A dummy head, often representing a Turk or Saracen, was fastened to rotate around an upright stake fixed in the ground.  At full speed, the knight on horseback tilted towards the head with his lance.  If he failed to strike it in the right place, it would spin round and strike him in the back before he could get clear.

Tilting at the quintain remained a rustic sport, especially popular at wedding celebrations, until the mid seventeenth century.

The similar phrase 'to tilt at windmills' has a rather different meaning, namely 'to battle fanciful enemies'.  The reference is to the crazed knight Don Quixote (in Miguel de Cervante's [1547-1616] novel, Don Quixote, 1605), who imagined the windmills to be giants and advanced to attack.

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It's an ill wind

Post by Kitkat on Sun 19 Feb 2017, 12:43

IT'S AN ILL WIND

Similar in spirit to 'every cloud has a silver lining', this ancient nautical proverb suggests that some good can come from most misfortunes.  The full phrase is, 'It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good', meaning that only the very worst situations are universally bad, and that hardships usually bring benefits eventually.

It was already widely used by 1546, when John Heywood (c.1497-c.1580) included it in his book of English proverbs.  In 1591, Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI; 'Ill blows the wind that profits nobody' (2:5).

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To make no bones

Post by Kitkat on Mon 20 Feb 2017, 16:37

TO MAKE NO BONES

To be honest and direct without any risk that the statement may be misunderstood, but also sometimes used to mean to have no scruples about something.

One oft-cited source for this phrase is the world of gambling.  Dice were often known as 'bones' because they were originally made from animal bone.  Yet there is no further evidence to link the phrase to dice.

It is more likely that it has its roots in the older expression 'to find bones in something', which was used from the fiftenth century.  That phrase came from the fact that finding bones in a bowl of broth was considered troublesome, so to find bones in something came to mean to take issue with it.

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My word is my bond

Post by Kitkat on Tue 21 Feb 2017, 16:04

MY WORD IS MY BOND

The motto of the London Stock Exchange since 1801.  At the Stock Exchange, deals are made on the 'nod' without a written pledge being given, and without documents being exchanged.

The motto's Latin form is Dictum meum pactum, and the phrase implies a sense of honour, an agreement that cannot be broken without disgrace.

How times have changed.  These days bankers are not held in quite such high regard.


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No news is good news

Post by Kitkat on Wed 22 Feb 2017, 14:49

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS

The absence of information justifies continued optimism; that is, if all's quiet, then there is no cause for alarm.  The phrase probably dates back to the early seventeenth century; in 1616, King James VI and I (1566-1625) wrote: 'No newis is bettir than evill newis.'

The word 'news', now understood as a singular noun, was still plural up to the nineteenth century, as seen in this letter from Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians, 20 August 1861:  'The news from Austria are very sad, and make one very anxious.'

The word is in fact short for 'new stories', and the old spelling was 'newes', a literal translation from the French nouvelles.

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Not my bag

Post by Kitkat on Thu 23 Feb 2017, 12:40

NOT MY BAG

A slang expression for something which is definitely not one's subject or style.

It probably came from the American jazz scene, 'bag' meaning a personal style of playing; for instance, 'playing with a hip-hop band was not his bag'.  However, the phrase came into general use, being applied to almost anything, in both America and Britain.

It shares a meaning with the more common phrase 'not my cup of tea', which has been used throughout the twentieth century to denote something that isn't to one's taste.


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Not worth a tinker's damn

Post by Kitkat on Fri 24 Feb 2017, 13:49

NOT WORTH A TINKER'S DAMN

This is one of many phrases meaning that something is worthless.  Tinkers were itinerant menders of kettles and pans and were a common sight on the streets in the eighteenth century.  It has been suggested that the term comes from the tinker's custom of blocking up a hole in the article he was mending with a pellet of bread, thus making a 'dam', or plug, that would hold the molten solder.  This pellet was discarded when the job was finished.  So a tinker's dam is a useless or negligible thing.

However, the present spelling of 'damn' alludes to its meaning as a curse or oath, and the phrase is also heard as 'not worth a tinker's cuss', a cuss being slang for a curse, which tinkers uttered frequently.


It is still common 'to tinker about' with something, which means to fiddle, often in a clumsy fashion, in an attempt to make repairs.
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One sandwich short of a picnic

Post by Kitkat on Sun 26 Feb 2017, 20:11

ONE SANDWICH SHORT OF A PICNIC

A derogatory description of someone who is not terribly bright.  It is one of many such cartoon-like expressions, such as 'one prawn short of a cocktail' and other variations.

'The lights are on but no-one's at home' and 'the lift doesn't go to the top floor' have very much the same meaning.


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One man's meat is another man's poison

Post by Kitkat on Mon 27 Feb 2017, 15:01

ONE MAN'S MEAT IS ANOTHER MAN'S POISON

This is a very old adage that simply means that what is palatable or beneficial to one person is distasteful or harmful to another.

In ancient times, meat and bread were generic terms for food, and in Britain the use of the word 'meat' in many proverbs simply meant 'food'.

The phrase 'different strokes for different folks' pretty well sums up the meaning.  The rhythm and phrasing of this expression in particular have given rise to an endless stream of imitations.  To an adulterer, perhaps, 'One man's mate is another man's passion', or even 'One man's Jill is another man's thrill'.

The proverb's meaning in general has also inspired spin-offs.
'One man's floor is another man's ceiling' is attributed to D. Bloodworth (1967), while a contemporary version has a more political ring 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter'.

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Out for the count

Post by Kitkat on Tue 28 Feb 2017, 17:35

OUT FOR THE COUNT

Said of someone who is fast asleep, dead drunk or completely demoralized.

It is a boxing and wrestling term describing defeat by being counted out by the referee.  If a fighter is floored and does not find his feet withiin ten seconds counted out loud, he has lost the bout.

To say 'count me out', on the other hand, means 'do not include me in this'.

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Over a barrel

Post by Kitkat on Wed 01 Mar 2017, 18:43

OVER A BARREL

To be stuck in a helpless position, powerless to get yourself out of it, or to be at someone's mercy.

The phrase is possibly nautical in origin and is said to derive from the practice of draping over a barrel someone who has been rescued from the water when close to drowning, so encouraging the ejection of water from the lungs.

A more likely derivation, however, may be a form of punishment or torture in which the victim is bent over a barrel and beaten.


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Over the top

Post by Kitkat on Thu 02 Mar 2017, 16:02

OVER THE TOP

An expression that describes something that goes way beyond the bounds of good taste or good sense, or which is outrageously inappropriate, or a complete overreaction.

It came from the trenches of the First World War, when soldiers were described as going 'over the top' when they scrambled out of the trenches to attack the enemy.

Over The Top was also the name of a television show in the 1980s, which became known only by its initials, OTT.  These are still used today in many colloquial contexts in place of the original phrase.

For example, a particularly impassioned verbal outburst, or a person who behaves or dresses outrageously, might be described as 'OTT'.

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Pandora's Box

Post by Kitkat on Fri 03 Mar 2017, 14:27

PANDORA'S BOX

This is a troublesome 'can of worms' - a gift that seems of great value but is actually a curse, generating all sorts of unmanageable problems.

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman, sent by Zeus as a gift to Epimetheus, who married her, against the advice of his brother Prometheus.  As a wedding present, Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box, but instructed her that she must never open it. Over time, Pandora was tempted to defy this condition... but when she finally opened the box, all the evils of the world escaped, ever after to afflict mankind.

According to some, hope was the last thing that flew out; others believe that hope alone remained in the box.

The more modern phrase 'to open a can of worms', which was first used in America in the 1950s, is a euphemism that became popular in the UK in the 1970s.

It is a graphic metaphor for a tangled, squirming, unpleasant or uncontrollable situation that had not been apparent beforehand.

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To pour oil on toubled waters

Post by Kitkat on Sat 04 Mar 2017, 15:46

TO POUR OIL ON TROUBLED WATERS

A well-known metaphor meaning to mollify or soothe with gentle words, or to use tact and diplomacy to restore calm after an angry or bitter argument.

It has been a well-known scientific fact since the first century AD that rough waves are calmed when oil is poured upon them.  According to the Venerable Bede's (AD 673-735) History of the English Church and People (AD 731), St Aidan, an Irish monk of Iona, knew of this 'miracle' and gave a young priest a vessel of holy oil to pour on the sea when the waves became stormy.  (The priest was on an important voyage to fetch a maiden destined to be the bride of King Oswy.)

Moreover, on his many Atlantic crossing between Pennsylvania and Portsmouth in the eighteenth century, the ever-curious Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) observed not only the Gulf Stream, but also the calming effect of oil on the waves.


No. No.  NO!  judge
Remember this !  
Oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters, and the water repellency of a bird's feathers, thus exposing these creatures to the harsh elements. Without the ability to repel water and insulate from the cold water, birds and mammals will die from hypothermia.
How does oil impact marine life? - NOAA's National Ocean Service

and this:  http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Oc-Po/Oil-Spills-Impact-on-the-Ocean.html

Environmental Effects of Oil Spills
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As pleased as punch

Post by Kitkat on Sun 05 Mar 2017, 18:36

AS PLEASED AS PUNCH

In the traditional comic puppet show Punch and Judy, the pompous Mr Punch gloats smugly at the success of his evil actions and superiority over his shrewish wife Judy, and it is from this scenario that the phrase originates.  Punch had a lot to be pleased about; his quick wit was triumphant even over the Devil.

The show first came to England at about the time of the Restoration in 1660.  Then, it was known as Punchinello, which (and the name of Mr Punch himself) probably comes from the Italiana pulcinello (young chicken).


The present Punch and Judy scenario is similar to the original by the Italian comedian Silvio Fiorello, dating from about 1600. Although the basic plot varies, it usually involves Punch's enraged bludgeoning of his wife, Judy, their child, and several lesser characters, followed by his imprisonment ... and escape, thus him being 'pleased as Punch'.

The violence of the storylines is counteracted by slapstick action and comic dialogue.

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Pride goes before a fall

Post by Kitkat on Mon 06 Mar 2017, 21:13

PRIDE GOES BEFORE A FALL

An ancient warning for the arrogant to avoid conceit; do not be too cocksure or big-headed because events may conspire to bring you down.  The phrase is shortened from the passage in Proverbs (16:18):

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

'Pride goes before, and shame comes after' is another form of the proverb as it was used in the sixteenthand seventeenth centuries.  It has also been said that 'he who gets too big for his britches gets exposed in the end'.

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To put on the back burner

Post by Kitkat on Tue 07 Mar 2017, 14:54

TO PUT ON THE BACK BURNER

To put off or postpone.  A very useful expression in business if a decision cannot be made immediately, meaning that an idea, proposition, course of action or project can be put aside and kept in reserve for use when necessary, or when circumstances are more propitious.

It stems of course from the back burners, or rings, of a cooker, which are used for simmering, while the front burners are usually the hottest and used for fast cooking.

There is now even a verb form gaining increasing usage in office jargonese, with people talking of 'back-burnering' something.

An almost diametrically opposed metaphor is also used: an idea or project can be 'put on ice', to be figuratively defrosted at a later date.

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To put one's foot in it

Post by Kitkat on Thu 09 Mar 2017, 14:03

TO PUT ONE'S FOOT IN IT

To make an inadvertent blunder, particularly to say the wrong thing and to embarrass oneself.  To make a faux pas, which literally means 'a false step'.

The full phrase, from which this shortened version comes, is 'to put your foot in your mouth', and several sources suggest that this was first used in reference to eighteenth-century Irish parliamentarian Sir Boyle Roche (1736-1807), who in oratorical terms seems to have been the George W. Bush (1946-) of his day.

He famously delivered lines such as:  'All along the untrodden paths of the future, I can see the footprints of an unseen hand.'  A contemporary is believed to have said of him, 'Every time he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it,' and the phrase took off.

Prince Philip (1921-), who has something of a reputation for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, calls the afliction 'dentopedalogy'.

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To be in Queer Street

Post by Kitkat on Fri 10 Mar 2017, 13:12

TO BE IN QUEER STREET

Not to be confused with the gay district, this phrase means to be in financial difficulties or in dire straits.

Use of the word 'queer' could be a pun on 'query' - because Victorian tradesmen might mark the name of a customer with a poor credit rating on the ledger with a question mark.

It is more likely, however, that it is a direct translation of the German word Querstrasse, that is, a road at right angles to the main road.


Similarly, 'to be in Carey Street' is to be bankrupt.  Carey Street is situated in the City of London off Chancery Lane, and is home to the bankruptcy courts.

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To ring the changes

Post by Kitkat on Sat 11 Mar 2017, 13:43

TO RING THE CHANGES

This phrase comes from the world of bell ringing, which became popular in Britain in the seventeenth century and remains so to this day.  It means to make variations in the way you do something.

A 'change', you see, is the order in which a series of bells is rung.  Thus with a series of four bells, as in many parish churches, it is possible to ring twenty-four changes without once repeating the order in which the bells are struck (4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24).

In the nineteenth century, the phrase took on a new meaning and was used to imply that someone had been paid back for a wrongdoing or practical joke, usually by being given a taste of their own medicine.

We now most commonly use the phrase to mean simply 'to make changes' or 'to try several changes'.

The greatest number of changes ever actually rung on bells is reported to have been 40,320, which took about eighteen hours.

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Rome was not built in a day

Post by Kitkat on Sun 12 Mar 2017, 15:29

ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY

Great achievements, worthwhile tasks and the like are not accomplished without patient perseverance and a considerable passage of time.

This was originally a Latin proverb and has been quoted ever since, as in A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue (1546) by John Heywood:
Rome was not bylt on a daie (quoth he) and yet stood Tyll it was fynysht.

Rome was the greatest city in the ancient world and, according to legend, was founded in 753 BC by Romulus (hence the city's name) and his twin brother Remus.  However, it is most likely to have been named from the Greek rhoma meaning 'strength'; its other Latin name is Valentia, from valens meaning 'strong'.

As an indication of its importance in the world, Rome features in numerous old sayings such as 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' and 'All roads lead to Rome' (or 'All roads lead to rum', as W.C. Fields [1880-1946] put it).

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Round Robin

Post by Kitkat on Mon 13 Mar 2017, 19:38

ROUND ROBIN

A petition or protest signed in a circular form on the page so that no one name heads the list.  The device is believed to have originated in seventeenth-century France and the term could be a corruption of rond and ruban - round ribbon.

The round-robin letter is believed to have been adopted by British sailors in the seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries, for use when presenting a grievance to the ship's captain.  To avoid punishment, the ringleader would arrange for the signatures to be inscribed in a circular fashion around the page - although if the ship's captain was particularly vindictive, he would punish all the signatories for insurrection.

Today, we use the phrase to mean the opposite of its original meaning - it is rather a letter or email from a single author that is sent to numerous recipients.


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Round up the usual suspects

Post by Kitkat on Tue 14 Mar 2017, 12:03

ROUND UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Since the film The Usual Suspects was released in 1994, this phrase has returned to regular use, and is employed as a jocular instruction to gather a group of people together.

It is thought that the line was first spoken in the film Casablanca (1943), directed by Hal B. Wallis (1899-1986) and starring Humphrey Bogart (1899-1967) and Ingrid Bergman (1915082).  Claude Rains (1889-1967), playing the French Captain Renault, Chief of Police in wartime Casablanca, delivers this classic line in a scene near the end of the movie:  'Major Strasser has been shot.  Round up the usual suspects.'

When shooting began on Casablanca, the script was not finished.  Towards the end of filming, the dialogue was written on demand and literally rushed to the set.

According to the film chronicler Leslie Halliwell (1929-91), the film 'just fell together impeccably into one of the outstanding entertainment experiences in cinema history'.

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To sail close to the wind

Post by Kitkat on Wed 15 Mar 2017, 16:15

TO SAIL CLOSE TO THE WIND

This is another of the many proverbs that come from life on the high seas.  It is a figurative term, still in use today, meaning to take a chance, to emerge from an escapade just within the letter of the rule book, or, more riskily, to push the limits of what decency or propriety allows.

The nautical expression refers to the practice of steering a ship as near as possible to the point from which the wind is blowing, while keeping the sails filled.

To 'sail against the wind' is to go against the trend, in opposition to current thinking, practice or fashion.  And to 'sail before the wind' is to prosper, to meet with great success, just as a ship sails smoothly and rapidly with a following wind.

Similarly, to 'sail into the wind' is to tackle a difficult task with great vigour and directness.

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The sands are running out

Post by Kitkat on Thu 16 Mar 2017, 15:10

THE SANDS ARE RUNNING OUT

A metaphor to remind us that time is short; there will be less time to do what you have to do unless you act now.  The phrase is frequently used with reference to someone who has not much longer to live.

The allusion is to the sand in an hourglass.  The original version of the phrase is 'the sands of time are running out', the first part of which appears in the poem 'A Psalm of Life' (1838) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82):

Lives of great men all around us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Or as Robert Burns (1759-96) wrote in 'Tam o'Shanter' in 1791:

Nae man can tether time or tide


This is a variant of the old (c.thirteenth-century) English proverb 'Time and tide wait for no man.'

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To sell off the family silver

Post by Kitkat on Sat 18 Mar 2017, 13:31

TO SELL OFF THE FAMILY SILVER

To dispose of long-held and valuable assets for immediate short-term gain.  This phrase comes from a speech made by former Conservative Prime Minister Sir Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) to the Tory Reform Group in 1985.

Though in favour of privatization in principle, he objected to methods used by Margaret Thatcher's government and to the use of the profits of the sales of Britain's big industries as if they were income.

'First of all the Georgian silver goes, and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon.  Then the Canalettos go,' he said, likening the process to the selling off of prized heirlooms by aristocratic families desperate for a quick injection of cash.

The term is now common shorthand for the selling of state-owned resources to private companies.


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