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Latest topics

» Keep a Word - Delete a Word
by Whiskers Yesterday at 13:48

» Migraine is more than 'just a headache'
by Jamboree Yesterday at 09:04

» Silly Endings.
by Whiskers 14th April 2018, 21:32

» View all new posts since last visit - at a glance
by Kitkat 9th April 2018, 11:36

» Ronnie Corbett in an opera spoof?
by bimbow 7th April 2018, 23:02

» Henry and Baloo leave their pawprints in our hearts
by Whiskers 6th April 2018, 21:55

» Orkney: When the Boat Comes In
by Kitkat 6th April 2018, 16:30

» The Worst Construction Mistakes Ever
by Whiskers 5th April 2018, 12:00

» Nature
by Whiskers 4th April 2018, 12:00

» Stardust on the Moon
by Stardust 4th April 2018, 11:15

» Wildlife - death of Sudan, last male White Northern Rhino
by Stardust 4th April 2018, 09:36

» Stephen Hawking's warnings: What he predicted for the future
by Whiskers 3rd April 2018, 22:05

» Facebook links
by Stardust 3rd April 2018, 11:39

» A Granma's Anagrams
by Whiskers 3rd April 2018, 11:23

» Is Peer Review all it's cracked up to be?
by Stardust 3rd April 2018, 10:02

» Guess the word
by Jamboree 31st March 2018, 16:09

» Question for Forum Bloggers (Poll)
by Kitkat 30th March 2018, 23:05

» Happy Easter
by Kitkat 30th March 2018, 23:01

» Wild Scotland
by Whiskers 29th March 2018, 20:03

» A blink's as good as a smile
by Kitkat 27th March 2018, 21:08

» World's oldest cave art
by Stardust 27th March 2018, 11:23

» Kemerovo fire kills at least 64
by Stardust 27th March 2018, 10:52

» Blogthings: The Labyrinth Test
by Stardust 26th March 2018, 17:10

» Cannes Film Festival 2018 - Red Carpet selfies banned
by Stardust 26th March 2018, 13:33

» The Irish Thread
by Stardust 26th March 2018, 10:33

» True hero: Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame
by Kitkat 25th March 2018, 22:27

» Books
by Kitkat 24th March 2018, 16:48

» Cosmic beauty
by Stardust 23rd March 2018, 11:26

» Blogthings: The Easter egg personality test.
by Kitkat 23rd March 2018, 10:29

» Blogthings: What part of Spring are you?
by Stardust 23rd March 2018, 10:13

» So you think you know cats... read on
by Stardust 23rd March 2018, 09:43

» Feather by the sea.
by Stardust 23rd March 2018, 08:59

by Kitkat 22nd March 2018, 13:09

» Blogthings: what forest animal are you?
by Whiskers 21st March 2018, 16:40

» Bureaucats: Whiskers in the Workplace
by Whiskers 21st March 2018, 15:45

» Wildlife - lions eat the poacher
by Whiskers 21st March 2018, 15:43

» Wildlife - San Francisco to ban sale of fur
by Stardust 21st March 2018, 11:48

» The Beast from the East?
by Stardust 21st March 2018, 10:44

» Delicious and nutritious
by Stardust 21st March 2018, 10:19

» April Fools
by Stardust 21st March 2018, 07:57

» Your man with the glasses ...
by Kitkat 20th March 2018, 13:36

» Message in a bottle
by Stardust 20th March 2018, 09:39

» The cartoon thread.
by Whiskers 11th March 2018, 13:43

» Upper Back Pain
by Kitkat 10th March 2018, 16:14

» [solved] Yahoo Mail down - again!
by Kitkat 9th March 2018, 23:00

» Concerns with Wikipedia (and "filter bubbles") - Guerrilla Skeptics at Large
by Kitkat 3rd March 2018, 23:29

» Wonderful images - fabulous music
by bimbow 1st March 2018, 17:23

» The Beast from the East
by Kitkat 1st March 2018, 14:01

» MPs call for ESA death statistics to be published (Calum's List)
by Kitkat 28th February 2018, 17:06

» Invasion of the sex-craved spiders! EEK!
by lar-lar 25th February 2018, 21:32

» Daughter fundraising to save her terminally ill mother
by Jamboree 18th February 2018, 11:53

» Kitkat's KK Blog
by Kitkat 15th February 2018, 21:36

» Poetry from the heart.
by Jamboree 12th February 2018, 07:46

» A Day in The Life of a Dictator - Documentary
by Jamboree 12th February 2018, 07:21

» A coconut in a coffin?
by Whiskers 9th February 2018, 20:35

» Limericks
by bimbow 8th February 2018, 21:22

» Is there a Cathy in the place?
by Kitkat 1st February 2018, 19:17

» Chinese New Year
by Stardust 1st February 2018, 14:17

» What's your emergency?
by Whiskers 27th January 2018, 13:09

» YouTube free-loading vlogger gets a much needed lesson in reality
by Whiskers 22nd January 2018, 20:17

» Three-month-old baby says "hello"
by Kitkat 13th January 2018, 15:00

» 60 Christmas traditions around the world
by Kitkat 30th December 2017, 21:58

» Simon's Cat
by Kitkat 26th December 2017, 16:27

» A new(ish) song for Christmas.
by Whiskers 24th December 2017, 13:49

» Merry Christmas
by Whiskers 24th December 2017, 13:37

» The Christmas Thread
by Kitkat 20th December 2017, 21:22

» A reader's response to your article on food waste
by Whiskers 18th December 2017, 14:35

» Downward Dog
by Kitkat 4th December 2017, 21:35

» A very young Bee Gees treat
by Whiskers 29th November 2017, 16:35

» Prime cheek!
by Kitkat 28th November 2017, 09:32

» The life and achievements of Dr Elsie Inglis
by Kitkat 26th November 2017, 09:14

» Hidden disabilities: Pain beneath the surface
by Kitkat 21st November 2017, 21:20

» Scary photos
by Kitkat 19th November 2017, 12:50

» The 7-year-old neuroscientist wowing the internet
by Kitkat 16th November 2017, 10:03

» The cat killer stalking suburbia
by Whiskers 6th November 2017, 15:53

» It's that time again .....
by Kitkat 29th October 2017, 00:21

» Happy Halloween!
by Stardust 25th October 2017, 08:37

» Love makes the world go round
by Stardust 25th October 2017, 08:00

» Need help with homework (Hall Effect)
by Kitkat 24th October 2017, 12:18

» Well hello there!
by Whiskers 23rd October 2017, 23:53

» Madeleine McCann investigation continues ...
by Whiskers 23rd October 2017, 23:43

» Famous Youtubers... Do you watch them? Do you dislike them?
by Jamboree 23rd October 2017, 00:44

» Control your television with any object
by loner55 16th October 2017, 10:32

» Fahrenheit 451
by loner55 16th October 2017, 10:26

» HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Feather!
by Jamboree 15th October 2017, 17:43

» A walk through Dominica, hours after Hurricane Maria
by Kitkat 15th October 2017, 12:48

» SKEPS Forum
by Kitkat 8th October 2017, 22:00

» Quotes about Lifestye
by Whiskers 7th October 2017, 15:25

» Songs from the heart
by Stardust 20th September 2017, 20:55

» Bodies of 'hundreds' of children buried in mass grave
by mac 19th September 2017, 12:25

» Psychics didn't foresee THAT coming!
by mac 16th September 2017, 15:14

» Number 7777
by Kitkat 14th September 2017, 14:10

» 'Messy' mum barred from pub
by Stardust 11th September 2017, 16:17

» [solved] Multiquote ?
by Whiskers 11th September 2017, 11:13

» Why men are happier people???
by Stardust 8th September 2017, 20:10

» Pink rainbow
by Stardust 8th September 2017, 15:46

» Barking mad!
by Stardust 8th September 2017, 15:44

» Surviving in Libya
by Kitkat 7th September 2017, 22:52

» The Forum Café
by Kitkat 7th September 2017, 14:53

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The Cat's Pyjamas


Admin Kat
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Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by Kitkat on 17th November 2016, 15:27


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'.

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Saved by the bell

Post by Kitkat on 18th November 2016, 10:13


This is a boxing term thought to date from the late nineteenth century.  A floored contestant being counted out might be saved by the ringing of the bell marking the end of the round, giving him the three-minute break between rounds to recover.

However, there is another, albeit unsubstantiated, and rather gruesome theory to explain this phrase.  When graveyards become overcrowded in the eighteenth century, coffins were dug up, the bones taken away and the graves reused.

In reopening the coffins, one out of twenty-five was found to have scratch marks on the inside, meaning that its occupant must have been buried alive.

To guard against this most unfortunate occurrence in the future, a string was tied to the wrist of the corpse, which led from the coffin and up through the ground, where it was tied to a bell.  Someone would have to sit in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell - hence the phrase 'saved by the bell'.

From the same derivation, we have night workers on the 'graveyard shift' and sailors on the 'graveyard watch' between midnight and dawn.
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To see a man about a dog

Post by Kitkat on 19th November 2016, 11:12


This is a very shifty turn of phrase and suggests a desire to cover up one's real actions.  It is the excuse offered if one wishes to be discreet and avoid giving the true reason for leaving the room, the meeting or whatever social gathering.

The phrase is sometimes used as a euphemism for some unmentionable activity such as going to the lavatory - or worse, going to do something or meet someone one shouldn't.

The phrase originally referred to betting on dog racing.
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To see red

Post by Kitkat on 20th November 2016, 11:26


To give way to excessive passion or anger, or to be violently moved; to indulge in physical violence while in a state of frenzy.

The reference is to the spanish spectacle of bullfighting and the art of taunting the bull.  The phrase 'like a red rag to a bull' is said of anything that is calculated to excite rage.  Toreadors' capes are lined with red (although there is actually no evidence to suggest that the colour itself incenses the bulls).

The phrrase may also have blended with an American term in use in the early 1900s, 'to see things red', which describes the feeling of anger when the blood rises, or the 'red mist' descends.
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To sell someone down the river

Post by Kitkat on 21st November 2016, 15:33


This expression means to deceive or to betray.  The phrase probably originated in the first few years of the nineteenth century in the Southern states of America.

Since by then it was illegal to import slaves, there was an internal trade and they were brought down the Mississippi to the slave markets of Natchez or New Orleans.  Therefore if a slave was 'sold down the river', he lost his home and family.

The saying particularly alludes to the practice of selling unruly slaves to owners of plantations on the lower river, where conditions were harsher than in the more northerly slave states.

To 'sell' is old slang for 'swindle' or 'hoax', and a person who has been tricked is said to have been 'sold'.

To 'sell the pass' is to betray one's own side'; the phrase was orignally Irish and is applied to those who turn king's evidence or who betray their comrades for money.

The tradition relates to the behaviour of the regiment that was sent by Clotha, Lord of Atha, to hold a pass against the invading army of Trathal, King of Gael.  The pass was yeilded for money and Trathal, victorious, assumed the title of King of Ireland.
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At the sharp end

Post by Kitkat on 22nd November 2016, 11:48


Directly involved with the action, positioned where the competition or danger is greatest.  The connection is not with the point of a sword, but with the pointed shape of the bows of a ship, which are the first towards the enemy at the start of any engagement or battle.

The cry of 'Look sharp!' or 'Sharp's the word!' are both calls to immediate action, whether on the battlefield or in the playground; the expression also means to be observant, to 'keep your eye on the ball'.

Before the days of large supermarkets and closed-circuit television, if a shopkeeper suspected a customer of shoplifting, he would give a coded warning to his assistant by saying, 'Mr Sharp has come in.'

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To be in seventh heaven

Post by Kitkat on 23rd November 2016, 12:52


To be supremely happy, in a state of complete ecstasy.

The seventh heaven was defined by the Kabbalists - students of a Jewish mystical system of theology and metaphysics with its roots in ancient Greek teachings, which dates from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and from which Madonna's famous version of Kabbalah stems.

The Kabbalists interpreted passages from the Old Testament based on the symbolism of numbers, devised and decoded charms and created mystical anagrams and the like.  They maintained that there were seven heavens each rising above the other; the seventh being the home of God and the archangels, the highest in the hierarchy of the angels.

Seven is a mystic or sacred number.  It is the sum of four and three which, among the Pythagoreans, were, and have been ever since, counted as lucky numbers.  Among ancient cultures, there were seven sacred planets.

The Hebrew verb 'to swear' means literally to 'come under the influence of seven things', while in an Arabic curse, seven stones are smeared with blood.  All of which demonstrate the power of seven as a mystical number.

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Spin doctor

Post by Kitkat on 24th November 2016, 10:18


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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To stand in another man's shoes

Post by Kitkat on 24th November 2016, 17:57


'To stand in another man's shoes' is to take the place of another person emphathetically.

In similar vein, the opportunistic phrase 'waiting for dead men's shoes' is sometimes thought, if not spoken.

Among the Vikings, when a man adopted a son, the adoptee put on the shoes of his new father.

Reynard the Fox, a medieval beast epic (c.1175-1250), is a satire on contemporary life found in French, Flemish and German literature.  Reynard, having turned the tables on the former minister Sir Bruin the Bear, asks the Queen to let him have the shoes of the disgraced bear.  as a result, Bruin's shoes are torn off and put on the new hero.

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Sweet Fanny Adams

Post by Kitkat on 25th November 2016, 16:43


This expression is ambiguously used to mean either nothing at all, or sweet nothing.  It has a very tragic origin.

In 1867, eight-year-old Fanny Adams was raped and murdered in a hop garden in Alton, Hampshire, and her dismembered body was thrown into the River Wey.  A twenty-one-year-old solicitor's clerk, Frederick Baker, was tried soon after and hanged at Winchester.

The Royal Navy, with extreme black humour, adopted the poor girl's name as a synonym for tinned mutton, which was first isued at this time, and for a while stewed meat was known as Fanny Adams.  'Sweet Fanny Adams' became, as a consequence, a phrase for anything worthless, and subsequently to mean nothing at all.

The phrase is still used today, usually as just the initials 'SFA' or 'sweet FA', which happen to be the same as 'f**k all', from which most people, wrongly, think this expression is derived.

~ o ~

surprised   Now that I know where it comes from, I will never, ever use that expression again.  Evil or Very Mad

After further research, I found this:

The true story of Sweet Fanny Adams

Few people who use the expression 'Sweet Fanny Adams' know of its origin. However there was a time when it would have been recognised instantly.

When the name Fanny Adams made sensational headlines, creating a wave of horror, revulsion and pity. Little Fanny Adams was brutally murdered on Saturday 24 August 1867. Nothing much ever happened to disturb the rural Hampshire community of Alton: certainly none of the inhabitants could recall a local murder during their lifetime. So Fanny's mother, Harriet Adams, probably thought it quite safe for three small children to wander off alone towards Flood Meadow, just 400 yards from their home in Tan House Lane.

The crime

Fanny and her friend, Minnie Warner, both eight years old, set off up the lane with Fanny's seven-year-old sister Lizzie and they were approached by a man dressed in black frock coat, light waistcoat and trousers. Despite his respectable appearance he had obviously been drinking, and the proposition he put to the children remains chillingly familiar to today's police officers. He offered Minnie three halfpence to go off and spend with Lizzie, while Fanny could have a halfpenny if she alone would accompany him up The Hollow, an old road leading to the nearby village of Shalden. Fanny took her halfpenny but refused to go with him, whereupon he picked her up and carried her into a nearby hopfield, out of sight of the other children. It was then almost 1.30pm.

At about five o'clock, having played together since Fanny's abduction, Minnie Warner and Lizzie Adams made their way home. Seeing them return, a neighbour, Mrs Gardiner, asked where Fanny was, then rushed to tell Mrs Adams when the children had explained what had happened. The anxious women hurried up the lane, where they met the same man coming from the direction of The Hollow.

Mrs Gardiner accosted him: "What have you done with the child?" "Nothing", he replied equably, maintaining this composure as he answered Mrs Gardiner's other questions. "Yes, he had given them money, but only to buy sweets which I often do to children", and Fanny, unharmed, had left him to rejoin the others. His air of respectability impressed the women and when he told them that he was a clerk of a local solicitor William Clement, they allowed him to leave.

However, at seven o'clock, with the child still missing, worried neighbours formed a search party. They found poor Fanny's dreadfully mutilated remains in the hopfield. It was a sickening scene of carnage. The child's severed head lay on two poles, deeply slashed from mouth to ear and across the left temple. Her right ear had been cut off. Most horribly, both eyes were missing. Nearby lay a leg and a thigh. A wider search revealed her dismembered torso: the entire contents of chest and pelvis had been torn out and scattered, with some internal organs even further slashed or mutilated. So savage was the butchery that other parts of her body were recovered only after extensive searches over several days. Her eyes were found in the River Wey.

On hearing of her daughters death, the distraught Mrs Adams ran to tell her husband (who was playing cricket on the Butts, South of the Town) then collapsed from grief and exhaustion. George Adams reacted to the news by returning home for his shotgun, and setting out for the hopfields in search of the murderer. Fortunately for both, neighbours disarmed him.

The perpetrator

Later that evening, Supt William Cheyney arrested the obvious suspect at his workplace, the solicitor's office in Alton High Street. "I know nothing about it," said 29-year-old Frederick Baker in the first of many protestations of innocence, before Cheyney escorted him through an angry crowd to Alton Police Station.

The wristbands of Baker's shirt and his trousers were spotted with blood. His boots, socks and trouser bottoms were wet. "That won't hang me, will it?" he said nonchalantly, explaining that it was his habit to step into the water when out walking. But he could not explain how his clothing came to be bloodstained. More evidence - two small knives, one of them stained with blood - came to light when he was searched. The suspect was locked away while Supt Cheyney checked on his movements that afternoon. Witnesses confirmed that he had left the solicitors office shortly after 1pm, returning at 3.25pm, he again went out until 5.30pm. Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Adams had seen him coming from the direction of the hopfield some time after 5pm: if, as seems likely, he had murdered Fanny Adams during his first absence, had he returned to commit further depredations on his victim's body?

Baker's fellow Clerk, Maurice Biddle, spoke of seeing him in the office at about six that evening, when he had described his meeting with Mrs Adams and Mrs Gardiner. Baker had seemed disturbed, "it will be very awkward for me if the child is murdered", he told Biddle. Later they went over to the Swan for a drink where the morose Baker said he might leave town on the following Monday. To his colleague's observation that perhaps he would have difficulty in finding a new job, Baker made the significant reply, "I could go as a butcher".

On the following Monday, whilst searching Baker's office desk, Cheyney found his diary. It contained a damning entry which the suspect admitted writing shortly before his arrest. "24th August, Saturday - killed a young girl. It was fine and hot". At his trial Baker maintained that this entry, written when he was drunk, simply meant that he was aware a girl had been murdered.

The Coroner

Meanwhile, a local painter William Walker had found a large stone in the hopfield, with blood, long hair and a small piece of flesh adhering to it.

This, pronounced Dr Louis Leslie, the Alton divisional police surgeon, was probably the murder weapon; his post-mortem finding was that death had been caused by a crushing blow to Fanny's head.

Tuesday evening saw the inquest before Deputy County Coroner Robert Harfield at the Duke's Head Inn. After viewing the gruesome remains, hearing the evidence and the handcuffed prisoners reply when the coroner asked if he wished to say anything ("No Sir - only that I am innocent"), the jury returned a verdict "wilful murder against Frederick Baker for killing and slaying Fanny Adams". He was remanded to Winchester Prison to await the formal committal hearing.

This was held at Alton Town Hall on Thursday 29 August before local magistrates. Still protesting his innocence, the prisoner was committed for trial at the next County Assizes. A large crowd awaited his removal from the Town Hall and the Police were only able to protect him from the violence of the mob with great difficulty. Baker's trial opened at Winchester Assizes on 5 December.

Little Minnie Warner was carried into court to testify; the defence strongly challenged her identification of Baker and also claimed (perhaps correctly) that it was impossible for his small knives to have dismembered the unfortunate Fanny so thoroughly. But the defence case centred on Baker's mental state, a sad tale of hereditary insanity.

His father had "shown an inclination to assault even to kill, his children"; a cousin had been in asylums four times; brain fever had caused his sister's death; and he had attempted suicide after an abortive love affair.

Apparently unimpressed, the jury rejected Mr Justice Mellor's judicial advice that they might consider the prisoner irresponsible for his actions through insanity, possibly the inevitable verdict today.

After retiring for only 15 minutes the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Frederick Baker was hanged before a crowd of 5000, a large proportion of whom consisted of women, in front of Winchester's County Prison at 8am on Christmas Eve, 1867.

Following the execution it became known that Baker had written to the parents of the murdered child to express deep sorrow over the crime that he had committed "in an unguarded hour and not with malice aforethought". He earnestly sought their forgiveness adding that he was "enraged at her crying, but it was done without any pain or struggle". The prisoner denied most emphatically that he had violated the child, or had attempted to do so.

Poor Fanny's headstone which was erected by Public subscription and renovated a few years ago, is pictured here with her younger sister and Minnie Warner, and still stands in the town cemetery on the Old Odiham Road. It might have been our only reminder of the tragic affair had it not been for the macabre humour of British Sailors.

Served with tins of mutton as the latest shipboard convenience food in 1869, they gloomily declared that their butchered contents must surely be 'Sweet Fanny Adams'. Gradually accepted throughout the armed services as a euphemism for 'sweet nothing' it passed into common usage.

As an aside, the large tins in which the meat was packed for the royal navy, were often used as mess tins and it appears that even today mess tins are colloquially known as 'fannys'.

The Fanny Adams sampler reads:
The Alton Murder

The inhabitants of Alton have subscribed funds for the neat headstone to the grave of the girl Fanny Adams who was so brutally murdered by Frederick Baker. The headstone has been placed in the cemetery and bears the following inscription.

' Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered August 24th, 1867'.
Fear not them which kill the body, but rather fear Him who is able to kill both body and soul in hell.'

Hundreds of persons have visited the cemetery". Emma Robinson 1874

The colours of the silks on the back are greens and reds and blues and yellows but these have considerably faded on the front. It is all done in cross stitch, with some additional threads laid diagonally on one feature in the top right corner.
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Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by Stardust on 26th November 2016, 19:32

On the other hand, her name remains on many lips nearly 150 years later, even if most people don't know the origin (I didn't, either).

In some way it's keeping her memory alive and that's the least the girl deserves after being so brutally and horrifically murdered and butchered.

Poor girl, she hardly had a start on life's journey before she was snatched away.

Be grateful for even the smallest thing, blessings come in many disguises.
Admin Kat
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Sweet Fanny Adams

Post by Kitkat on 27th November 2016, 14:49

@Stardust wrote:On the other hand, her name remains on many lips nearly 150 years later, even if most people don't know the origin (I didn't, either).

In some way it's keeping her memory alive and that's the least the girl deserves after being so brutally and horrifically murdered and butchered.
For sure, every detail of little Fanny Adams' short life (and her horrific death) must already be well entrenched in the memories of her family and the people who still live in the area; the memory is already etched on her headstone and in tapestry memorials, etc.
I imagine (and hopefully this is the case) that the folks serving today in the Royal Navy that still use the term for their mess cans, have no idea why they are called so.
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Dear-John letter

Post by Kitkat on 27th November 2016, 15:02


A 'you're dumped' note from a wife or girlfriend breaking the news that the relationship with the recipient is over.

The expression originated during the Second World War and is thought to be American.  The unfortunate objects of Dear John letters were usually members of the armed forces overseas, whose female partners at home had made new liaisons, proving that absence sometimes did not make the heart grow fonder.

the name 'John' was often used to signify 'everyman' at the time, 'John Doe' was the name givenn to any man whose real name was unknown or had to be kept anonymous, like our 'Joe Bloggs' today.


Admin Kat
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The dog days of Summer

Post by Kitkat on 28th November 2016, 11:53


Very hot and oppressive Summer days.  The Romans called the hottest weeks of the Summer caniculares dies, and not because dogs are thought to go mad in the heat (although Noel Coward (1899-1973) did write in 1932 that 'mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun').

The theory was that the days when the Dog Star, Sirius - the brightest star in the firmament - rose with the sun were the hottest and most sultry.  It is an ancient belief that the combined heat of Sirius and the sun produced the stifling weather from about 3 July to 11 August.

We also now use the phrase 'dog days' to describe any period of stagnation.

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At the drop of a hat

Post by Kitkat on 30th November 2016, 10:54


On signal, instantly, without delay.

The expression alludes to the American frontier practice of dropping a hat as a signal for a boxing or wrestling match to begin, usually the only formality observed.  Athletics or horse races also used to be started by the fast downward sweep of a hat.

There are many sayings including the word 'hat', such as 'hats off to him', 'as black as your hat', and 'I'll eat my hat', all of which probably originated in the days when dress codes and social etiquete were more formal, requiring people in polite society to cover their heads.

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At the eleventh hour

Post by Kitkat on 1st December 2016, 12:42


Just in the nick of time, at the last moment, before the end of the day.

The allusion is to Jesus's parable of the labourers hired to work in the vineyard in which those starting work at the eleventh hour - that is, late in the afternoon at about five o'clock - were paid the same as those who had 'borne the burden and heat of the day' (Matthew 20:1-16).

The Allies' armistice with Germany, ending the First World War, came into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

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To eat humble pie

Post by Kitkat on 2nd December 2016, 15:05


To make a humble apology or to submit oneself to a certain degree of humiliation,
to climb down from a position one has assumed, to be obliged to take a lower station.

Here, 'humble' could be a play on the word 'umble', the umbles being the offal - the heart, liver and entrails - of an animal, usually the deer, considered a delicacy by some, although most thought them only fit for the servants.

Though the word humble has a different derivation, the closeness of the two words could be one of the reasons the phrase evolved as it did. For when the lord of the manor and his family dined on venison at high table, the huntsman and lower orders of the household took lower seats and partook of the umbles made into a pie.

James Russel Lowell (1819-91) observed in 1864:

Disguise it as you will, flavour it as  you will, call it what you will, umble pie is umble pie, and nothing else.

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To fight like Kilkenny cats

Post by Kitkat on 3rd December 2016, 14:07


This is a fight to the end, no holds (as in wrestling) barred.

The connection between fighting and Kilkenny cats is obscure.   From the Norman period until 1843, the city of Kilkenny was divided into Englishtown and Irishtown, with much strife between the two.  One theory harks back to a legendary battle between a thousand cats from Kilkenny and a thousand cats from other parts of Ireland.  In the night-long battle, all the Kilkenny cats survived victorious, while all the others perished.

Another, more popular, theory dates from about 1800, when Kilkenny was occupied by a group of Hessian mercenaries in British government service, some of whom, bored and with nothing better to do, tied two cats to a clothes line by their tails and sat back to enjoy the feline fight.

However, when an officer approached to investigate the noise, the soldiers had no time to release the cats, so they cut the animals free by severing their tails. The officer was told that the cats had fought so fiercely, only their tails remained.

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To be in fine fettle

Post by Kitkat on 4th December 2016, 12:37


To be in good order or condition - 'fettle' is an old word meaning condition, order or shape.  Nowadays, it rarely appears on its own, being usually heard in the alliterative phrase.

In the past, we might have heard 'good fettle' or bad fettle', and in John Barleycorn by Jack London (1876-1916), published in 1913, he wrote:

  • Those fifty-one days of fine sailing and intense sobriety had put me in splendid fettle.

The origin of the word 'fettle is somewhat obscure.  It probably comes from the Old English fetel for a belt, so 'fettle' first meant to gird oneself up, as for a heavy task.

The word was most typically used as a verb meaning to put things in order, tidy up, arrange, or prepare.  Such as in Anne Bronte's (1820-49) Agnes Grey (1847), in the Yorkshire dialect speech of a servant:

  • But next day, afore I'd gotten fettled up - for indeed, Miss, I'd no heart to sweeping an' fettling, an' washing pots; so I sat me down i' th' muck - who should come in but Maister Weston.

In Northern English dialects, 'fettle' is sometimes used in the sense of making or repairing something.  In Australia, a 'fettler' is a railway maintenance worker.

It is also used in some manufacturing trades - in metal casting and pottery it describes the process of knocking the rough edges off a piece.
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Gordon Benett

Post by Kitkat on 5th December 2016, 11:58


A mild oath, similar to 'Oh God'.

In fact, 'Gawd' and St Bennett (or Benet) have been put forward as the pair behind this expletive; St Benet is short for St Benedict.  (Shakespeare has in Twelfth Night [1600], 5:1, 'the bells of St Bennet', possibly from the church, St Bennet Hithe, Paul's Wharf, opposite the Globe Theatre.)

However, it seems more likely that the said Gordon Bennett was in fact James Gordon Bennett (1841-1918), the editor-in-chief of the New York Herald, who, among other things, was responsible for sending Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) to find Dr David Livingstone (1813-73) in Africa.

Extravagant and extrovert, he gave his name to a motor race held in France in the 1900s, where he resided after a scandal in America.  Such was his profile in society that there is a street in Paris named Avenue Gordon-Bennett.

In English, the similarity between Gordon and Gawd must have struck a chord.  At the turn of the nineteenth century, people shied away from blasphemy in the name of God and so this curse, which is still used today, was born.

Similarly, 'Gorblimey' (later 'Cor blimey') evolved instead of 'God blind me'.
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Not on your nellie!

Post by Kitkat on 6th December 2016, 16:36


Not bloody likely, not on any account, on your life.  One conjecture is that it derives from a cockney rhyming slang from around the 1930s, 'Nellie Duff' ('duff' rhymes with puff, i.e. breath, that which keeps you alive).

Another theory  is that your 'nellie' is your stomach, your 'Aunt Nellie' - belly, something that in a more refined age you did not reveal to the world.

The phrase was one of comedian Frankie Howerd's (1917-92) catchphrases, which he popularized in the 1940s.
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Once bitten, twice shy

Post by Kitkat on 7th December 2016, 13:29


A phrase meaning that one learns from previous experience.

Having been caught out once, one is wary or cautious the next time - and you should therefore learn from your mistakes.

'He that stumbles twice at the same stone deserves to have his shins broke' appears in R. Taverner's list of Proverbs and Adages of 1539, while the American humourist Josh Billings (1818-95) said that 'nobody but a fool gets bit twice by the same dog'.

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To pass the acid test

Post by Kitkat on 8th December 2016, 10:08


Said of someone or something that has been subjected to a conclusive or severe test.

The phrase was used literally during the American gold rush, when prospectors needed a sure-fire way of telling gold from valueless metals.  Gold is not attacked by most acids, but reacts to nitric acid, also known as aqua fortis, which is therefore the acid used in the 'acid test' for gold.

To 'put on the acid' is probably derived from 'to pass the acid test' and is Australian slang meaning to exert pressure on someone when asking for a favour or a loan.
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The real McCoy

Post by Kitkat on 11th December 2016, 16:47


This is a common American expression, although it originated in Scotland as 'the real Mackay', meaning 'the real thing'.

Mackay was the name of an old family descended from the Scottish people known as the Picts; the term appeared in the Scottish National Dictionary in 1856 as part of the phrase 'a drappie (drop) of the real Mackay'.

In the 1880s, the expression was adopted as an advertising slogan for Mackay whisky, which was exported to America and Canada, where people of Scottish origin drank it and kept the phrase alive.

In the 1890s, it was applied to a famous boxer, the prize fighter Kid 'the Real' McCoy (1872-1940), and this is the spelling that has remained in use.

Coca-Cola, probably the most advertised produce in the world, adapted the phrase in the 1970s by describing their product as 'the real thing' in comparison with any rival products.

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Rule of thumb

Post by Kitkat on 12th December 2016, 10:50


A rough guesswork measure, a calculation based on generally held experience in a certain field.  This rule is distinct from any proven theory.

It refers to the use of the thumb to make rough measurements.  The first joint of the average adult thumb measures 1 inch or 25 mm, so could be used to measure objects quickly that were close at hand; while raising the thumb and aligning it with distant objects was a common way of estimating how far off they were.

There is also an apochryphal derivation for 'rule of thumb':  In the days when it was accepted practice for a man to beat his wife, the stick for this purpose was legally allowed to be no broader than the thickness of a man's thumb; it was illegal for the stick to be thicker and a man using such a stick could be arrested for assault.

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To sit above the salt

Post by Kitkat on 13th December 2016, 13:24


To sit in a place of distinction at the dinner table.

Formerly, the family 'saler' or salt cellar was an ornate silver centrepiece, placed in the middle of the table.  Special or honoured guests of distinction sat above the saler - that is, between the salt and the head of the table where the host sat - while dependants and not-quite-so-important personages sat below.

    Current date/time is 20th April 2018, 15:25