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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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To see through rose-tinted spectacles

Post by Kitkat on Mon 20 Mar 2017, 16:16

TO SEE THROUGH ROSE-TINTED SPECTACLES

To look at life or to regard circumstances with unjustified optimism, always looking on the bright side of life, as though it were suffused with a gentle pink light.  Spectacles of such a hue would show the world 'in the pink' - but it would be misleadingly rosy, bright and hopeful.

The French equivalent is voir la vie en rose - again, to see life 'in the pink', which in turn means to be in excellent health (abbreviated from the phrase 'in the pink of health' or 'in the pink of condition', a definition derived from a flower in its best state).

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As sick as a parrot

Post by Kitkat on Tue 21 Mar 2017, 18:02

AS SICK AS A PARROT

A term to describe extreme disappointment at an unexpected failure or setback.  A similar phrase, 'melancholy as a parrot' was used by the author Aphra Behn (1640-89) in the seventeenth century, and it is to describe this kind of malady, rather than sickness to the stomach, that the phrase is used today.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a somewhat overused metaphor favoured by football managers, who often employed it to describe their feelings after losing a match.  This surge in use of the phrase may have been linked to scare stories in the press at the time about the highly contagious disease psittacosis or 'parrot fever', which could be passed from birds kept as pets to their human owners.

Despite being mocked by the satirical magazine Private Eye, though perhaps heldped by the absurdity of the 'Dead Parrot' sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus, the phrase caught the public imagination and is still common, though it has been superseded in some circles by the more economical 'gutted'.

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Sour grapes

Post by Kitkat on Thu 23 Mar 2017, 15:13

SOUR GRAPES

This is an ancient metaphor used when someone denigrates something that is clearly desirable because they know they can't have it for themselves.

The phrase comes from the well-known fable 'The Fox and the Grapes' by Aesop, dated to the sixth century BC:
One hot day, a thirsty fox spotted some juicy-looking grapes hanging from a vine.  The cluster of fruit was just out of reach.  However hard he tried, he could not reach the grapes; and the greater the effort he made, the hotter and thirstier he became.

Eventually, the fox gave up and reasoned that as the grapes were beyond reach, they would probably be sour and inedible.

The moral of the story is that we can console ourselves with the fact that, although some things are unattainable, we probably wouldn't like them anyway.

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To sow dragon's teeth

Post by Kitkat on Fri 24 Mar 2017, 09:06

TO SOW DRAGON'S TEETH

To stir up trouble, strife or war, or to foster disagreement.

The reference is to the Greek myth of Cadmus.  Cadmus was supposed to have introduced the alphabet to Greece and, according to legend, he killed the dragon that guarded the fountain of Dirce, in Boeotia, and sowed its teeth in the ground.

From these sprang up a horde of warriors intent on killing him.  On the goddess Athene's advice, Cadmus threw a precious stone among them.  The warriors set upon each other in the struggle to retrieve the stone until only five remained alive, and with Cadmus they founded Thebes.

The teeth which Cadmus did not sow came into the hands of Aetes, King of Colchis, and one of the tasks he gave the hero Jason - he of the Argo and the Golden Fleece - was to sow them and slay the armed warriors that rose from them.

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To spill the beans

Post by Kitkat on Sat 25 Mar 2017, 14:23

TO SPILL THE BEANS

The exercise means 'to let on', to tell all - perhaps prematurely - to an eager audience, to give away a secret or 'to let the cat out of the bag'.

There are various explanations for the derivation, one of the most colourful being that it may have originated at the turn of the twentieth century as an Amerian euphemism for vomiting because beans represented basic food.

Another possibility is that the phrase comes from ancient Greek voting practices,where black and white beans were used to represent agreement and disagreement with the issue bing voted on.  Each voter put one bean into a pot or helmet - and the result was revealed by spilling out the beans.

Beans appear in various expressions:  'to be full of beans' means to be in high spirits orfull of energy, and was originally said of lively horses; beans used to be slang for money or property, so that 'I haven't got a bean' means that one is broke.

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Spin doctor

Post by Kitkat on Sun 26 Mar 2017, 13:28

SPIN DOCTOR

This phrase comes from baseball and refers to the spin put on the ball by a pitcher to disguise its true direction or confuse the batter.

It is an American idiom which was first applied in political commentary in the mid 1980s during Ronald Reagan's presidency, describing his public-relations advisers during promotion of the 'Star Wars' Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI).

These so-called 'spin doctors' were on 'spin control', their mission being to give the preferred interpretation of events to the world's media, thereby manipulating public opinion in the desired direction.  The spin doctor is now a prominent feature of British politics and business in general.

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Strike while the iron's hot

Post by Kitkat on Tue 28 Mar 2017, 12:05

STRIKE WHILE THE IRON'S HOT

To act immediately when the opportunity arises.  This is a metaphor from the blacksmith's shop, since iron cannot be easily worked once it has cooled down.

The phrase has been attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer, although there are many ancient sayings that encourage action today rather than waiting for tomorrow.  Pittacus (c.640-568 BC) said, 'Know they opportunity', while make hay while sun shines appears in an early sixteenth-century book of proverbs.

More up to date, a women's-lib slogan neatly inverts the proverb in a warning against inaction:  'Don't iron while the strike is hot'.
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Suck it and see

Post by Kitkat on Wed 29 Mar 2017, 14:48

SUCK IT AND SEE

Said of anything experimental, the saying alludes to taking a pill, which has to be sucked first to see if it works.

The expression was a catchphrase of Charlie Naughton (1886-1976) of the Crazy Gang (a group of British entertainers from the 1930s), and probably originated earlier in the music halls.

To say that something 'sucks' is a derisive description of something bad or of someone's failure.

A 'sucker', meanwhile, is someone who is easily deceived, a greenhorn; that is, a newborn creature that still suckles at its mother's breast.
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The sword of Damocles

Post by Kitkat on Thu 30 Mar 2017, 10:15

THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES

Impending danger or disaster in the midst of great prosperity or good fortune.

In the fourth century BC, Damocles, who was a toadying sycophant of Dionysus the Elder of Syracuse, was invited by the tyrant to test his self-proclaimed charm and wit.  Damocles accepted and was treated to a sumptuous banquet, but over his head a sword was suspended by a mere hair, intended by Dionysus as a symbolic indicator of the fragility of wealth and power, his own included.

This quite naturally inhibited Damocles's performance at the banquet because he was too frightened to move.

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To take a dekko

Post by Kitkat on Fri 31 Mar 2017, 11:11

TO TAKE A DEKKO

To glance at, or to have a quick look at.

This is one of the many phrases that were brought back from India by the British Army in the colonial days in the late nineteenth century.  In Hindi, dekho is the imperative form of the verb dekhna, meaning 'to look at'.
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What a carve up

Post by Kitkat on Sat 01 Apr 2017, 12:41

WHAT A CARVE UP

This is an English slang phrase meaning to spoil someone's chances, or to have all prospects ruined.

In criminal circles, a 'carve up' means to share out illicit booty, while in New Zealand, it means to have bested everyone else, as in, 'He carved up in the snooker contest'.

The phrase is taken from the title of a 1961 spoof horror film starring Sid James (1913-76) and Shirley Eaton (1937-), in which family members gather at a haunted house to hear the reading of a will.  The title made use of the double meaning of 'carve up' to refer both to the dividing of the inheritance and to a more literal 'carving up' of the victims, as members of the party are methodically picked off and gruesomely murdered.

Jonathan Coe (1961-) published a satirical novel of the same name in 1994:  It concerns the greed prevalent in 1980s Britain, including the 'carving up' of state assets (see to sell off the family silver).

On the road, the phrase means to cut aggressively in front of another driver, one of the actions that has led to the phenomenon of 'road rage'.

There are now all sorts of 'rage' situations to describe the frustrations of modern life, such as 'trolley rage' in the supermarket, or 'air rage', as demonstrated by drunken passengerrs on aeroplanes.
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The royal 'we'

Post by Kitkat on Tue 04 Apr 2017, 12:57

THE ROYAL 'WE'

The somewhat superior choice of the collective pronoun 'we' in place of the individual 'I' by a single person.

Legend has it that King Henry II (1133-89) was the first to employ the royal 'we' in 1169 when justifying a decision to his barons; he argued that since kings were ordained by God, his choices were God's choices too, and so used 'we' rather 'I' when issuing his orders.

The current Queen of England, Elizabeth II, often uses this style in referring to herself, for instance during her Christmas Day broadcasts, while the frosty comment 'We are not amused' was attributed to Queen Victoria in1900.

In March 1989, the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, announced to the world in a famously regal tone: "We have become a grandmother."






[Me]:  I've often wondered about this one.  

Now that I know the 'explanation', it seems even more absurd! surprised
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As thick as thieves

Post by Kitkat on Fri 07 Apr 2017, 12:16

AS THICK AS THIEVES

To be intimate with some person or group, to be in collusion with them.  'Thick' is used in this context to mean 'closely knit', not in its other meaning of stupid, a bit slow on the uptake.

Thieves notoriously conspire and plot together, and devise secret languages so that they can discuss their business in a code that will not be understood by others - a slang or jargon that used to be known as 'thieves' Latin'.  Cockney rhyming slang itself was originally a closed language to the uninitiated and was created by crafty East Londoners to outwit authority and eavesdroppers.

'As thick as thieves' was already a common saying by the time it was first used in print in the 1800s, and we now use it primarily to describe people who are close friends.
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All cats love fish, but fear to wet their paws

Post by Kitkat on Sun 09 Apr 2017, 11:59

ALL CATS LOVE FISH, BUT FEAR TO WET THEIR PAWS

A traditional saying, dating back to at least the sixteenth century, used to describe a person who is keen to obtain something of value, but who is not bold enough to make the necessary effort or to take the risk.

It is to this saying that William Shakespeare (1564-1606) referred in Macbeth (1:7):

Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would',
Like the poor cat i' the adage.


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About one's ears

Post by Kitkat on Mon 10 Apr 2017, 12:55

ABOUT ONE'S EARS

This colloquialism, which means to be in a very bothersome situation in which one might sustain some pain or trouble, is a shortened form of the saying 'to bring a hornets' nest about one's ears'.  A hornet is a type of large wasp,which can inflict a savage sting.

Thee expression 'to stir up a hornets' nest' implies the same degree of trouble as the phrase above - and suggests perhaps deliberate provocation too.

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The back of beyond

Post by Kitkat on Sat 15 Apr 2017, 16:30

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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Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Post by Kitkat on Sun 16 Apr 2017, 14:01

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Caught between two evils or dangers, in a dilemma with nowhere to turn.
 
The saying may be of nautical origin, the 'devil' being a term for a seam in the hull of a ship that ran along the waterline.

A commonly used modern phrase with a similar meaning is 'between a rock and a hard place'.

'Between the devil and the deep blue sea' could also have been inspired by the ancient phrase 'to steer or sail between Scylla and Charybdis'.

In Homer's Odyssey, Scylla was a six-headed monster who lived in a cavern overlooking a narrow channel off the cost of Sicily; she seized sailors from every passing ship with each of her six mouths.

On the opposite rock, Charybdis, another monster, lived under a huge fig tree, from where she sucked in and regorged the sea, forming a treacherous whirlpool.

In the poem, Odysseus sailed between these two perils, losing his ship in the whirlpool and the crew to Scylla.  Only he survived - by clinging to the fig tree.

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Beware Greeks bearing gifts

Post by Kitkat on Thu 20 Apr 2017, 12:09

BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS

Sometimes expressed as 'I fear Greeks even when they offer gifts' (Virgil [70-19 BC], Aeneid, 29-19 BC), this saying has its roots in the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War.

After a ten-year siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks, one of the remaining Greek besiegers (the Odysseus of the previous entry) devised an ingenious plan to invade the city.  He hid all his men in a huge wooden horse, which was left outside the city gates, and then the Greeks abandoned their posts. The Trojans mistakenly took the horse to be a tribute from their beaten enemy, and in celebration took the gift to the heart of their stronghold.

When night fell, the Greek soldiers poured out of the horse and - having the element of surprise - were victorious in the final battle.

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The big enchilada

Post by Kitkat on Sun 23 Apr 2017, 12:48

THE BIG ENCHILADA

The leader, the top man or woman, the boss.

The phrase crops up in the infamous Watergate tapes, referring to the then US Attorney-General, John Mitchell (1913-88).  He led President Nixon's (1913-94) re-election campaign in 1972, and was later indicted on charges that he had conspired to plan the burglary of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC, and had then obstructed justice and perjured himself during the susequent cover-up; he was convicted in 1974.

'The big enchilada' is a modernized version of earlier phrases that became popular in the mid 1970s, such as 'big gun' or 'the big cheese', both of which are used to describe VIPs,especially in business; a group of them may sometimes be facetiously described as les grands fromages.
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The Big Apple

Post by Kitkat on Mon 24 Apr 2017, 11:46

THE BIG APPLE

The well-known nickname for New York City.

The name was first coined in the 1920s by John J. FitzGerald (1893-1963), a reporter for the Morning Telegraph, who used it to refer to the city's race tracks and who claimed to have heard it used by black stable hands in New Orleans in 1921.

Black jazz musicians in the 1930s took up the name to refer to the city, especially Harlem, as the jazz capital of the world.  The epithet was then revived in 1971 as part of a publicity campaign to attract tourists to New York.

The sentiment behind 'The Big Apple' is likely to be the idea of an apple as a symbol of the best, as in the apple of one's eye, meaning someone or something that is very precious.

In the eighteenth century, the writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717-97) referred to London as 'The Strawberry', being impressed by its freshness and cleanliness compared with foreign cities; he named his estate at Twickenham, Middlesex, Strawberry Hill, and founded there the Strawberry Hill Press.

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Big-stick diplomacy

Post by Kitkat on Wed 26 Apr 2017, 16:44

BIG-STICK DIPLOMACY

A political catchphrase which describes diplomatic negotiations that are backed up by the threat of military force.

The term was brought to public attention in 1901 when then US Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) revealed in a speech his fondness for the West African proverb 'Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far'.  (Later, as President, he used such practices sucessfully in the Alaskan boundary dispute of 1902-4.)
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The Black Dog

Post by Kitkat on Fri 28 Apr 2017, 19:57

THE BLACK DOG

The metaphorical 'black dog' has various personalities.  Horace wrote that to see a black dog with its pups was a bad omen, and the Devil has frequently been symbolized by a black dog.

After British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) referred to his depression as his 'black dog', the phrase also became a metaphor for this specific form of mental illness.

In addition, 'black dog' is eighteenth-century slang for a counterfeit silver coin made of washed pewter.  Even then, 'black' when applied to ill-begotten money was a familiar term.

There is another phrase, 'to blush like a black dog', which means not to blush at all.


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Business as usual

Post by Kitkat on Sun 30 Apr 2017, 10:08

BUSINESS AS USUAL

This self-explanatory expression was widely used in Britain in the Second World War, and especially during the London Blitz and the blitzes on other major cities, when shops and businesses continued to open in spite of bomb damage.  In the capital, 'Business as usual' and 'London can take it' were commonly scrawled defiantly on the walls of damaged buildings.

Winston Churchill popularized the phrase in 1941 in a speech at the Guild Hall in London when he said, "The maxim of the British people is: "Business as usual."

A later Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret (Baroness) Thatcher (1925-2013) memorably evoked the fighting spirit behind these words after the lethal IRA bomb attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton, in which she was lucky to escape death or serious injury, during the Conservative Party Conference of 1984.


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