The suffix "stan"
As a generally accepted explanation, the suffix "stan" is an ancient Persian and/or Farsi word meaning country, nation, land, or place of, so, the country name of Afghanistan would then mean "homeland" of the Afghans, or place of the Afghans.
(extract from the "WorldAtlas.Com" site)
Varied versions of Afghan are traced to the third century. Some historians feel the name derived from a 9th century Iranian emperor named Apakan.
Kazakh is a Turkic word meaning "someone independent and free." The name was later used by Russian people, eventually known as the Cossacks.
In the old Turkic language, kyrg means "40" and yz means "tribes," so the word itself means "40 tribes." The Kyrgyz originated in Mongolia.
What is the origin of "go to hell in a handbasket"? "going to hell in a handbasket"?
This phrase, meaning "to deteriorate rapidly", originated in the
U.S. in the early 20th century. A handbasket is just a basket with
a handle. Something carried in a handbasket goes wherever it's going
without much resistance.
James L. Rader of Merriam-Webster Editorial Dept. writes: "The
Dictionary of American Regional English [...] records 'to go to
heaven in a handbasket' much earlier than [...] 'hell,' which is not
attested before the 1950s. The earliest cite in our files is from
1949 [...]. 'In a handbasket' seems to imply ease and and speed
[...]. Perhaps part of the success of these phrases must simply be
ascribed to the force of alliteration. DARE has a much earlier
citation for another alliterative collocation with 'handbasket'
(1714), from Samuel Sewall's diary: 'A committee brought in
something about Piscataqua. Govr said he would give his head in a
Handbasket as soon as he would pass it.' I suspect that 'to go to
hell in a handbasket' has been around much longer than our records
would seem to indicate."
(extract from the alt.quotations archives, article by Sam Hobbs citing the 1997 aue faq)
What is the origin of "Goody two-shoes"? "Goodie two-shoes"? "Goody 2 shoes"?
According to www.quinion.com...
"It comes from the title of a rather twee and moralistic nursery tale called _The_History_of_Goody_Two-Shoes_, which is thought to have been written by Oliver Goldsmith, and which was published in 1765 by John Newbery, one of the earliest London publishers of children's stories. Goody owned only one shoe. When she was given a pair of them, she was so pleased that she showed them to everybody, saying "Two shoes". The phrase now refers to a self-righteous, smugly virtuous person.>--"
"Goody" was a common nickname for married women, way back when; it was
short for "Goodwife". The character's "real" name was Margery Meanwell
(and she lived in Mouldwell).
(extract from the aue archives, article by Orne Batmagoo referencing the World Wide Words site
How our politically-correct police chiefs have banned the phrase nitty-gritty for being racist (oh, and 'good egg' is outlawed too!)
It was the moment a startled minister discovered at first hand the stranglehold political correctness has on the police. Addressing rank and file officers at their annual conference, Home Office minister John Denham had referred to the "nitty-gritty". Sorry, said Metropolitan Police constable Chris Jefford, but that phrase is banned. ... The phrase - said to have its origins in the 18th Century slave traders' phrase for the debris left at the bottom of a slave ship after a voyage. A visit to the hold was described as 'going to the nitty-gritty'. ... PC Jefford later expanded on other phrases that were considered likely to cause offence. They include the saying 'you're a good egg'. This is linked to the slang expression 'egg and spoon' which rhymes with the highly derogatory name for black people, 'coon'. ... 'There is no actual list of banned words. It just depends on what someone finds offensive,' said PC Nixon. ... He told how an officer of Spanish origin had recently objected to the term 'Spanish practices' being used. Another words said to be outlawed is 'pikey' - a slang term for gipsies or travellers.
(extract from the "Daily Mail", article by Ben Taylor)
The BBC's version of the story can be found at the BBC news site
The Guardian's version of the story can be found at the "Guardian Unlimited" site
A follow-up discussion on the etymology of "nitty-gritty" can be found in the aue archives
A follow-up discussion on the "political correctness" of "nitty-gritty" and related expressions can be found in an aue discussion
On the origins of "nitty-gritty": Dr Jonathan Lighter, in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, records the first example from 1956: "You'll find nobody comes down to the nitty-gritty when it calls for namin' things for what they are". As it is here fully formed, and has the now customary sense of the fundamental issues, the heart of the matter, or the most important aspects of some situation, it had by then probably already been in use for some while (I know of two people who claim to have come across it in the 1920s). But it is inconceivable that it should have been around since slave-ship days without somebody writing it down. (extract from the "World Wide Words" site)
- Other words in the "political correctness" spotlight recently include (from "The Sun"):
- "Good egg": banned because of a possible connection to the rhyming slang, "egg and spoon".
- "Homosexual": banned by Scotland Yard because it reportedly portrays gay men as criminals.
- "History": banned at Stockport College because the first syllable, "his", is sexist.
- "Hard-working": removed from an employment advertisement because it might offend the disabled.
- "Gobbledygook": banned in several UK firms as sexual harassment because of its sound.
What is the etymology of "nick in time"? "just in the nick of time"?
From "A Hog on Ice" by Charles Earle Funk (1948, Harper & Row)
"in the nick of time - It means, of course, at the critical or precise moment; just at the instant when our hero was saved at the last moment from onrushing death, for example. The expression about three centuries old, formed when someone added the redundant 'of time' to the older expression, 'in the nick,' which meant the same thing. A nick is a groove, a notch, as made with a sharp knife when one cuts a V in a stick of wood. Nothing could express precision more accurately than a notch so formed, especially when applied to time."
A quote from Walden, the chapter called 'Economy': In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.
The phrase the nick of time is part of a group of figurative uses having
the broad meaning 'precise; exact'. The earliest use in this family is the
(very) nick, which, like nick of time, means 'at the precise or exact moment
required; the critical moment'
Of course, you could check out
... it seems AUE has considered this before.
(extract from the aue archives, article posted by "rzed")
What is the origin of "To pay the piper"? "He who pays the piper..."?
The proverbial expression "To pay the piper" is recorded for the first time in 1638, so that it could in fact refer to the first English version of the legend of the pied piper which was published as early as 1605 by Richard Verstegan. In his short account Verstegan talks of a stranger entering the city of Hamelin in a coat "beeing wrought with sundry colours, was called the pyed pyper; for a pyper hee was, besydes his other qualities." But this account had no popular currency and could hardly have been the source for the expression "To pay the piper" which must be looked at as a shortened version of the proverbs mentioned above. Many proverbial expressions originate from longer proverbs, and this can be well demonstrated from two parallel texts which even have the same meaning as the ones under discussion here, namely the proverb "He that dances should always pay the fiddler" and the proverbial expression "To pay the fiddler" derived therefrom.
But there have been and continue to be scholars who claim that the phrase "To pay the piper" in its figurative sense originated with the Pied Piper legend. Cobham Brewer argued this first in 1870 in his famous Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, but he was rebuffed in a short note by A. C Mounsey in 1884:
In his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Dr, Brewer tells us that the phrase "To pay the piper" comes from the tradition about the Piper of Hamelin, who was not paid. But England, I fancy, had from early times pipers who lived by their piping, the expense of which was, doubtless, on frequent occasions defrayed by one out of the many that had enjoyed the pleasure of the dance. The passage from the literal to the figurative meaning is very easy, and it would seem unnecessary to fetch the phrase from so far. The French have managed, without the help of foreign tradition, to give a proverbial form to the same idea. "Payer les violons" has long been used in the sense of paying the expense of something of which others have all the profit or pleasure. But Dr. Brewer has, no doubt, good reasons for what he affirms.
It might be added here that parallels from other European languages can easily be found, and as a matter of fact, the editor of the centenary edition of Brewer's Dictionary has dropped the claim that the phrase originated from the legend altoghether.9 But there remain the die-hards nonetheless. In 1922, Albert M. Hyamson stated that "To pay the Piper" is "an allusion to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin concerning the payment for whose services a dispute arose." Charles N. Lurie also claims that "we owe to this story [The Pied Piper of Hamelin] also the ancient saying about 'paying the piper,'" and as recently as 1980 there appeared the claim that "this expression probably alludes to the 13th-century legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in which the piper, upon being refused the payment promised for ridding the town of rats, played his pipe again; this time, however, it was the children who were led out of town to their death. Thus, the residents suffered the consequences of their decision, having 'paid the piper' with their children's life." The author continues "that the derivation may be more literal, that is, it was customary to pay a piper or other street musician for the entertainment he supplied."
(extract from the "DeProverbio" site, article by Wolfgang Mieder)
What is the origin of "the bee's knees"?
The exact origin of "bee's knees" remains a topic of debate, but there is wide-spread agreement that the phrase first appeared in North America during the 1920s. Some interesting theories are listed below.
- Bees carry pollen back to the hive in sacs on their legs. The allusion is to the concentrated goodness to be found around the bee's knee. (extract from the Phrase Finder).
- The expression was coined in the 1920s by an American cartoonist named Tad Dorgan, who also graced the language with such corny superlatives as "the cat's pajamas" and less durable ones such as the "the flea's eyebrows" and - a real clunker - "the canary's tusks." Dorgan also came up with: "Yes, we have no bananas." I've long been puzzled why, to this day, the bee's knees expression has maintained a certain currency in Britain, something it has not had for decades in the United States. The thought occurs that perhaps, more than half a century on, it's a still lingering cultural artifact from the American occupation of the south of England in the lead-up to D-Day. (extract from the Guardian's Notes and Queries site, article by Dave Todd)
- It's one of a set of nonsense catchphrases that originated in North America in the 1920s, the period of the flappers, nearly all of which compared some thing of excellent quality to a part of an animal. (extract from Michael Quinon's World Wide Words).
- I think the idea is that on a bee, knees are strictly a luxury. The phrase originated in 1920s U.S. slang, which had a whole slue of such phrases: "the eel's ankle", "the flea's eyebrows", "the clam's garter", "the snake's hips", "the elephant's instep", "the kipper's knickers", "the cat's pyjamas", "the canary's tusks", "the sardine's whiskers". The fact that "the bee's knees" rhymes may have assisted its survival. (extract from the aue archives, article by Mark Israel)original article
- The bee's knees is actually a development from something that was originally stated as "The be all and the end all of everything." this being rather long, was shortened to "the B's and E's" which eventually became "the bee's knees" (extract from the Guardian's Notes and Queries site, article by "Ogins")
- My _Dictionary of American Slang_ says "bee's knees" was a fad started c1924. Like some Chinese menus, pick one from column A and one from column B... (extract from the aue archives, article by Robert Keller)original article
- ...[the] _bee's knees_ may be a humorous pronunciation of _business_. I have seen this offered as a genuine derivation and it seems as plausible as the current favourite for _OK_. (from the aue archives, article by S. Z. Hanley)original article
What is the origin of "Teddy Bear"?
As folklore has it, teddy was born in 1902, when President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was taking a well-deserved break on a shooting trip in Mississippi. When the local game failed to show up, aides captured and stunned a bear cub and offered it to Roosevelt to finish off. Deeming this "unsporting," the president declined. His act of mercy was caricatured in the next day's Washington Post. The cartoon caught the eye of New York sweet shop owner Morris Michtom, who asked his wife to make a toy "Teddy's bear" to go in the shop
window by the drawing. Back came an anthropomorphised bear, a marketing coup so successful that within a year the Michtoms had shut up shop to start the Ideal Novelty and Toy company, now one of the largest in the world.
(extract from "The Scotsman")
What is the origin of "brass monkey"? "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"? (Etymology)
The word "monkey" is of uncertain origin; its first known usage was in 1498 when it was used in the literary work Reynard the Fox as the name of the son of Martin the Ape. "Monkey" has numerous nautical meanings, such as a small coastal trading vessel, single masted with a square sail of the 16th and 17th centuries; a small wooden cask in which grog was carried after issue from a grog-tub to the seamen's messes in the Royal Navy; a type of marine steam reciprocating engine where two engines were used together in tandem on the same propeller shaft; and a sailor whose job involved climbing and moving swiftly (usage dating to 1858). A "monkey boat" was a narrow vessel used on canals (usage dating to 1858); a "monkey gaff" is a small gaff on large merchant vessels; a "monkey jacket" is a close fitting jacket worn by sailors; "monkey spars" are small masts and yards on vessels used for the "instruction and exercise of boys;" and a "monkey pump" is a straw used to suck the liquid from a small hole in a cask; a "monkey block" was used in the rigging of sailing ships; "monkey island" is a ship's upper bridge; "monkey drill" was calisthenics by naval personnel (usage dating to 1895); and "monkey march" is close order march by US Marine Corps personnel (usage dating to 1952). [Sources: Cassidy, Frederick G. and Joan Houston Hall eds. Dictionary of American Regional English. vol.3 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1996): 642; Wilfred Granville. A Dictionary of Sailors' Slang (London: Andre Deutch, 1962): 77; Peter Kemp ed. Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea. (New York: Oxford University; Press, 1976): 556; The Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933; J.E. Lighter ed. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. (New York: Random House, 1994): 580.; and Eric Partridge A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. 8th ed. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company): 917.]
It has often been claimed that the "brass monkey" was a holder or storage rack in which cannon balls (or shot) were stacked on a ship. Supposedly when the "monkey" with its stack of cannon ball became cold, the contraction of iron cannon balls led to the balls falling through or off of the "monkey." This explanation appears to be a legend of the sea without historical justification. In actuality, ready service shot was kept on the gun or spar decks in shot racks (also known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy) which consisted of longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, into which round shot (cannon balls) were inserted for ready use by the gun crew. These shot racks or garlands are discussed in: Longridge, C. Nepean. The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships. (Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981): 64. A top view of shot garlands on the upper deck of a ship-of-the-line is depicted in The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1991): 17.
(extract from the U. S. Naval History FAQ)
Where does the phrase "flipping the bird" come from? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
The following, from Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English," may be relevant although it makes no mention of the hand gesture. To give someone the bird is "to dismiss [him], send him about his business . . . late C. 19-20. [From] the theatre . . . In Australia, 'give the bird' is to treat with derision: from before 1916." In obsolete theatrical usage (Partridge gives a date of 1883), "the bird" is defined as "a hissing of an actor," from the sound made by geese.
(extract from the "Phrase Derivations Discussion Forum")
What is the origin of "shi*t-eating grin"? "a big shi*t-eating grin"?
The phrase can be defined, but its origin is unknown. The aue newsgroup has had threads on this since 1992. Here's the link...
What is the origin of "lie back and think of England"? "close your eyes and think of England"?
From _Dictionary of Catchphrases_ (1995) by Nigel Rees:
"close your eyes and think of England": traditional advice given to women when confronted with the inevitability of sexual intercourse, or jocular encouragement to
either sex about doing anything unpalatable.
The source given for this phrase -- Lady Hillingdon's (or Hillingham's) _Journal_ (1912) is suspect and has not been verified:
'I am happy now that Charles calls on .... '
_Salome Dear, Not With a Porcupine_ (ed. Arthur Marshall, 1982) has it
instead that the newly-wed Mrs Stanley Baldwyn was supposed to have
declared subsequently: 'I shut my eyes tight and thought of the
In 1977, there was play by John Chapman and Anthony Marriott at the
Apollo Theatre, London, with the title _Shut Your Eyes and Think of
Sometimes the phrase occurs in the form *lie back and think of
England* but this probably comes from confusion with *she should lie
back and enjoy it*.
Adrian Room, in _Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable_ (2000), writes:
Alice, Lady Hillingdon (1857-1940) married the 2nd Baron Hillingdon in 1886, but the whereabouts or even existence of her _Journal_ is unknown.
_The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Fifth Edition_ (1999) gives in the "Sayings and slogans" section: Close your eyes and think of England. said to derive from a 1912 entry in the journal of Lady Hillingdon
(1857-1940), but the journal has never been traced
(extract from the aue archives, article by "masakim", follow the link to see the complete thread)
What is the origin of "red letter day"?
The term dates from old calendars in which "high days and holidays" (i.e. Holy Days)were marked in red. I believe that this practice was originally used in the First Book of Common Prayer (dating from 1549 with major contributions from Thomas Cranmer) in which every Sunday, Festival (e.g. Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsun etc.) and important Saint's day was marked in red. The tradition continued in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which incidentally has contributed so much to the English language. Of course, none of this precludes you marking your calendar with your own red letter days!
(Extract from the Guardian's "Notes and Queries" site, article by Tony Crook)
What is the origin of "get a life"?
...getting a life might have originally had something to do with getting another life as in the video games when your little guys got knocked off. I used to hear kids asking how many lives the other guy had left, etc. I'll 'get a life' if I ... So the expression or words 'get a life' could have fist appeared, in the 80's, but not quite with its present connotations.
It may next (or concurrently) have begun to be used by computer geeks who would spend hours on end at their terminals, and their PC became their life. They would be told kiddingly, or not so kiddingly, by friends, family, and other hackers to 'get a life.' No definite documentation or dates for this, however.
The first big-time use of the word in the media was in a 1987 Saturday Night Live skit in which William Shatner, Captain Kirk of Star Trek, does a parody on Trekkie fans. In the sketch, he is the guest of honor at a Star Trek convention. He is asked by fanatical fans wearing pointy ears, several trivia questions concerning the exact combinations of safes he had opened on various episodes (e.g. what was the combination to the safe in episode #38?). He tells these people at the end of the skit to 'move out of your mothers basement' and GET A LIFE...
From the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
get a life
Acquire some interests or relationships of one's own. For example, Stop sitting around and complaining-get a life. [Slang; late 1900s]
From the Jargon Dictionary: Get a life! imperitive. Hacker-standard way of suggesting that the person to whom it is directed has succumbed to terminal geekdom (see computer geek). Often heard on Usenet, esp. as a way of suggesting that the target is taking some obscure issue of theology too seriously. This exhortation was popularized by William Shatner on a 1987 "Saturday Night Live" episode in a speech that ended "Get a life!", but some respondents believe it to have been in use before then. It was certainly in wide use among hackers for years before achieving mainstream currency via the sitcom "Get A Life" in 1990.
(extracts from the "Wordwizard" site)
What is the origin of "to eat crow"? "eat boiled crow"? "Crow McGee"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
The origin of "to eat crow" is ultimately unknown. Almost all authorities cite an incident that took place during a truce in the war of 1812. The story goes that an unarmed British officer encountered an American hunter near the Niagra River, gained control of his musket and thereby forced him to eat the crow he had just shot. The American complied, but when his musket was returned, forced the British officer to do the same.
The first recorded "in context" citation (where "eating crow" is associated with humiliation) occurred 1877, where it is "to eat boiled crow".
"Crow McGee", meaning the opposite of the "real McCoy", did not appear until the 20th century and its relationship to "eating crow" cannot be established.
What is the origin of "OK"? "Okay"? (Etymology)
April 1, 2002 -- It's one of America's most popular exports, used just about everywhere, from Paris to Beijing, from Johannesburg to Calcutta. But how did OK come to be? Linguists have pondered the question for years, arriving at many colorful -- but incorrect -- answers.
Some believe it came from the abbreviation of Orrin Kendall biscuits, which soldiers ate during the civil war. Others say OK is short for Aux Cayes, a Haitian port that American sailors praised for its rum. Another legend suggests the word comes from Old Keokuk, a Native American tribal chief who was said to have signed treaties with his initials.
But none of those versions have been proven correct, as NPR's Neva Grant reports for Morning Edition's Present at the Creation series.
What is known is that the first instance of OK appearing in print was in the spring of 1839 by the Boston Morning Post:
It is hardly necessary to say to those who know Mr. Hughes, that his establishment will be found to be 'A. No. One' -- that is, O.K. -- all correct.
"To talk about the larger phenomenon as OK spread across the America and given to the world -- that implies that it has multiple origins; that people accept it for a variety of reasons," says Michael Adams, a linguist and an Albright College professor.
Adams says there are words like OK in many other languages. In the West African language of Wolof, "waw kay" means "yes." In Choctaw, "okeh" means "indeed."
While there isn't any proof that any of the words gave birth to the American OK, Adams says it's possible that the many non-English phrases helped the English one stick.
"The influence of Choctaw, African American speech, political speech -- all of that came together in a kind of melting pot," Adams says. "There is a sense that the newspaper started it, but all those other influences came together to make OK probably the most popular American English word."
McKean says because OK has that sense of "jauntiness and belonging," people from all over the globe want a part of it.
Famed journalist H.L. Mencken wrote about it. American soldiers took it to the places they were stationed. It was even taken into space, by astronauts like John Glenn, who excitedly exclaimed as the Friendship 7 launched, that "We're all OK!"
"I'm trying to think what people would have said before OK," McKean questions. "If you had to go through a day without it, could you do it? Are you going to say, "right you are," or "very well?"
(extract from the "National Public Radio" site, article by Neva Grant)
What is the origin of "begs the question"? (Phrase origins)
It's said that beggars can't be choosers, although some people would like a few options when using a common expression featuring the word "beg." The origin of begs the question is "petitio principii" - Latin for "laying claim to a principle." It describes an argument that is false because it relies on a conclusion that is assumed but not proven.
Over time, "begs" has also come to mean "poses" or "addresses" the question. To highlight some people's unhappiness with this trend, the Canadian Oxford devotes several paragraphs to what it clearly identifies as an expanded but "disputed" definition. The lexicographers resist weighing in with a ruling - unsurprising, since dictionaries prefer description to proscription nowadays. But the 1997 Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage doesn't hesitate to offer advice:
"In Canadian newspapers, 'begs the question' almost always means 'raises the question' or 'brings up the issue.' Although this usage is very common, it should probably be avoided because it is completely at odds with the formal meaning of the expression and constantly criticized by commentators."
Several news organizations, including the Canadian Press and Globe and Mail, have also told their journalists to stick with the original meaning. The CBC has published style guides over the years with similar recommendations, and columnist Martin O'Malley sent a reminder to the corporation's online news staff recently, along with some practical advice: "Since we seldom use 'begs' this way, many assume it means 'demands that a question be asked.' It does not. Best to avoid the phrase or risk embarrassment."
(extract from the "CBC News" site, article by Blair Shewchuk)
What is the origin of "slush fund"? (Etymology)
This is a nautical expression. "Slush" refers to the refuse fat or grease obtained from meat boiled on board ship. Sailors boiled down and stored the fat remains of their salt beef rations with the intent of selling them for personal gain. Citations of "slush fund" date from 1839.
What is the origin of "salt of the earth"? (Etymology)
This phrase appears in the KJV translation (1611) of the Bible "...Ye are the salt of the earth..." (Matthew, 5:13). The OED provides citations from the 10th century.
What is the origin of "scot free"? "to go scot-free"? (Etymology)
The word "scot" in this expression is not related to Scotland or the Scottish. It comes from an Old English word meaning "reckoning" or "payment", especially pertaining to a tavern or entertainment expense. The term "scot-free" has been used since the 16th century.
What is the origin of "Mexican wave"? (Etymology)
Although there are a number of challengers for where the "wave" was invented, this expression came into widespread usage during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City. There, the "wave" was televised to a large international audience and thereby gained its name.
What is the origin of "to ramp up"? (Etymology)
The verb "to ramp" entered English in the 14th century, and the expression "ramp up" was first applied to climbing plants such as vines. From this usage, "to ramp up" came to mean a general escalation or a rapid increase in activity.
What is the origin of "to make no bones about"? (Etymology)
This expression can be traced to the 15th century, "...and found that time no bones in the matter..." (The Paston Letters), and apparantly the allusion is to finding bones (ie, impediments) in soup or stew.
Its modern meaning, to be very direct, is thought to come from dice, which were originally made of bones (as in to leave nothing to chance). The French also have an expression, "flatter le de|" (to slide the dice), which means the opposite.
What is the origin of "the life of Riley"? "life of Reilly"? (Etymology)
It is said that this expression originated in the 1880s from a song called, "Is that Mr. Reilly?". The song contained lyrics such as "a hundred a day would be my pay", and other comedic speculation about what "Mr. Reilly" would do if he were to become wealthy. The earliest recorded citation for "life of Reilly", however, is in 1919, where the "life of Reilly" is referred to in another song, "...but I'm living the life of Reilly just the same..."
What is the origin of "shanks' pony"? "shanks pony"? "shanks mare"? (Etymology)
"Shanks' pony" is a euphamism for walking. The "shank" is on the lower part of the leg, between the ankle and knee.
What is the origin of "in the limelight"? "lime light"? (Etymology)
The burning of lime to create a strong light was originally used by lighthouses before the era of electric lights. Theatres also burned lime to create a strong spotlight effect, and hence the expression "in the limelight".
What is the origin of "naff"? "naff off"? (Etymology)
The etymology of "naff" is ultimately unknown. We can provide several theories...
Aue has threads on the topic of "naff" dating from 1991, here's the link: etymology of "naff".
- According to Kieth Waterhouse, author of Billy Liar (the novel that contains the senior literary citation), "naff" was used by UK service personnel as an acronym of "nasty, awful, fuck it".
- Along the same vein, the acronym "NAFFI" has been used by UK service personnel as an acronym for "Navy, Army, Air Force Institutes" (equivalent to a US "PX").
- Partridge suggests that "naff" may be a backslang formation of "fanny" (UK slang for "vagina").
- An explanation from London's gay community points to the acronym "not available for fucking" (ie, "straight").
- The AHD3 suggests that "naff" is derived from the dialectal "naffhead" ("simpleton").
Of the theories given, it is likely that acronym "NAFFI" fits best with naff's meaning of "unstylish or outmoded", and that the backslang and gay slang theories fit best with the etymology of "naff off".
The OED provides this memorable citation, "1982 Sunday Times 18 Apr. 1/4 Princess Anne..lost her temper with persistent photographers and told them to 'naff off'".
What is the origin of "ducks in a row"?? (Etymology)
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ISBN 0-06-270133-9
An American expression meaning to have one's arrangements completed, to have things organized or lined up; or, literally, to have one's skittles set up. In an American bowling alley the skittles, or pins, are called ducks.
From the Phrase Finder Forum
Primitive versions of modern bowling were known many centuries ago. Pins of varied sizes and shapes were employed. Eventually they were standardized at fifteen inches in both height and circumstances. Originally called ten-pins, the equipment used in Europe was employed in the earliest American bowling saloons. The game was modified by introduction of a short, slender pin that was compared with a duck and, by extension, called them duckpins. So many people reset so many pins in rows that one who completes a task is commended as having put his 'ducks in a row.'
From the Forty Ducks page
How simple it seemed. My marks were excellent. The second year, reading Caesar's Gallic wars was not. That's where "Forty Ducks in a Row" came into being. Caesar's Latin actually read, "Forte Dux in Aro" - translated to "Brave Leader in Battle". We wise guys merely visualized it the other way perhaps because it was easier to remember.
From Chuck Moreland's Phrases with Origings page
Baby ducklings swim in a straight line behind the mother duck. If the ducklings stray to far, the mother duck will get them back in line, that is get her ducks in a row.
As a nickname for the soldiers of the Bombay Presidency
From a children's game called "duckstones"
From an arcade game of marksmanship involving plastic ducks
From a sailor's trousers, called "ducks".
From military tents made of untwiled linen
From a tank (or similar military vehicle) formation
From the formation ducks use when flying low over water
Of these selections, we suggest that Brewer's explanation is the most plausible.
What is the origin of "to the bitter end"? (Etymology)
This is thought to be a nautical expression describing the end of a cable attached to the "bit".
The OED provides this citation, "1867 Smyth Sailor's Word-bk. 103 A ship is 'brought up to a bitter' when the cable is allowed to run out to that stop. When a chain or rope is paid out to the bitter-end, no more remains to be let go..."
What is the origin of "High Muckety Mucks"? "High Muck a Mucks"? "High Muckty Mucks"? "High Muckety Muck on the Totem Pole"? (Etymology)
This is thought to have derived from the Amerind Chinook (western North America) words for "hiu muckamuck", which means "have plenty to eat".
Apparently (and inexplicably), the phrase was adopted by traders and explorers in the region to mean "chief", and from this route entered the English language as a synonym for "those in charge", or "those very high on the totem pole".
The OED provides citations for muck-a-muck (as a Chinook word for "provisions") from 1847. Websters concurs with this etymology.
What is the origin of "this neck of the woods"? "our neck of the woods?" (Etymology)
Originally the neck of the woods was a narrow strip of woodland connecting a larger area of woodland.
There are many idiomatic expressions which refer to parts of the body. In earlier replies we have looked at skin and bone, legs and feet, head, brain and mind idioms. If you want to revise these, look them up under the confusing words and expressions part of the archive. Press the button which says 'more questions' at the bottom of this page.
Let's spend a little time today on neck and nose idioms, of which there are many.
(extract from the BBC site)
What is the origin of "suits to a T"? "suits to a tee"? (Etymology)
TO A T - "We use this expression very commonly in the sense of minute exactness, perfection; as, the coat fits to a T; the meat was done to a T. It is easy to dismiss the origin of the expression as, I am sorry to say, some of our leading dictionaries do, by attributing it to the draftsman's T-square, which is supposed to be an exact instrument, but the evidence indicates that the expression was in common English use before the T-square got its name. 'To a T' dates back to the seventeenth century in literary use and was undoubtedly common in everyday speech long before any writer dared to or thought to use it in print. But it is likely that the name of the instrument, 'T-square,' would have been in print shortly after its invention, yet the first mention is in the eighteenth century. The sense of the expression corresponds, however, with the older one, 'to a tittle,' which appeared almost a century earlier, and meant 'to a dot,' as in 'jot or tittle.' Beaumont used it in 1607, and it is probably that colloquial use long preceded his employment of the phrase..." From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Books, New York, 1993).
(extract from the "Phrase Finder" site)
What is the etymology of "nickname"? "nick-name" (Etymology)
The word "eke" (as in "to eke out") meant "also" or "extra". An eke name was therefore an extra or supplementary name and over time, this has become corrupted to a nickname. (Adrian, Glynneath U.K.)
(extract from the Guardian's "Notes and Queries" site)
What is the origin of the term "continental breakfast"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
Countries in continental Europe (i.e., the "continent") typically serve a cold breakfast of cereal, cheese, and croissant as a self-service buffet. This is contrasted with a "cooked breakfast" or more commonly, "full English breakfast", which typically includes fried eggs, sausage, ham, and tomato.
What is the origin of "making the beast with two backs"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
This is euphamism for sexual intercourse. It is commonly believed that Shakespeare coined this phrase on "Othello", "...your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs..."
What is the origin of to "beat swords into ploughshares"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
This comes from the Bible, "...they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more..."
What is the origin of "an ace in the hole"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
In certain games of poker, some cards are dealt such that they are not visible to the other players, and the slang expression for these cards is called "the hole". Having an "ace" (a high card) in "the hole" can provide one with a decisive advantage when the cards are finally revealed.
What is the origin of "an albatross around one's neck"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
"Albatross" comes from a Spanish word for "pelican", and it was regarded as bad luck to kill one of these birds. Samuel Coleridge used the metaphor of an albatross in his poem "The Ancient Mariner".
(see also "millstone around one's neck" and "anchor around one's neck")
What is the origin of "in one fell swoop"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
"Fell" comes from a Latin word meaning "cruel" or "savage". Shakespeare coined the expression "one fell swoop" in MacBeth.
What is the origin of "balls to the wall"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
The origin of "balls to the wall" is thought to come from aircraft pilots who pushed their joysticks ("balls") into the full thrust position (i.e., "the wall"), thereby making the aircraft go as fast as possible (see also "pear-shaped").
Another theory suggests that marathon runners hit a figurative "wall" at the 18 mile mark.
And finally, the expression "balls to the wall" could simply be a clever rhyme. Take your pick...
What is the origin of "Bob's your uncle"? "Bob is your uncle"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
The most plausible theory for the origin of "Bob's your uncle" refers to a case of nepotism wherein Lord Salisbury (Robert, or "Bob") appointed his nephew to the post of Chief Secretary for Ireland (1887).
What is the origin of "blue blood"? "blue blooded"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
This expression is said to have originated in Spain to differentiate people with very pale skin (i.e., European) from those with Moorish or Jewish ancestory. For people with pale complexions, blood vessals appear to have a blue tint.
What is the origin of "beyond the pale"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
"Pale" comes from a Latin word meaning "stake" or "boundary marker". In the 16 century, the term, "English pale", was used to describe areas under English dominion or jurisdiction.
What is the origin of "as old as the hills"? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
This comes from the Bible, "...Art thou the first man that was born? Or were thou made before the hills?"
What is the origin of "that's cool"? (Etymology)
The usage of cool as a general positive epithet or interjection has been part and parcel of English slang since World War II, and has even been borrowed into other languages, such as French and German. Originally this sense is a development from a Black English usage meaning 'excellent, superlative,' first recorded in written English in the early 1930s.
(extract from the Bartleby site)
What is the origin of "Doodly Squat"? "Diddly Squat"? (Phrase origins)
The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang lists the original form as "Doodly-squat," dating from 1934. No clue given as to the origin. Doodle means, variously, a fool, a Union soldier, a penis, to cheat, and to copulate. The dic does not list a usage for "doodly-shit" until 1966.
The dic lists "diddly-squat" as a euphemism for "diddly-shit," which does not appear until 1964 (1963 for diddly-squat).
It is difficult to draw a conclusion from all this, except I doubt it has anything to do with squatting in a dwelling.
(Dave Wilton, posting in alt.usage.english)
Where does the phrase "taking the mick", "taking the mickey" come from? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
Partridge's "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English" dates this expression to c. 1950, and gives its origin as rhyming slang ("Mickey Bliss"). Mickey Bliss, thought to be BBC radio personality, has never been conclusively identified.
A competing theory is that "taking the mick" was derived from the verb, "micturate" (to urinate).
What is the origin of the word "Hooligan"? (Etymology)
According to the OED, the origin of "hooligan" is unknown. They explain that the word first appeared in 1898 in London police reports, and suggest that "hooligan" might be a corruption of "Hooley" or "Hooley's gang".
The OED further notes that the name "Hooligan" was used in the late 19th century for a comic Irish character and a "rowdy Irish family".
What is the origin of "Bog Standard"? (Etymology)
I don't know what constitutes "nailing down", but if you read old British sports car and sports motorcycle magazines from the Brooklands era you will find references to "box standard" vehicles, i.e., standard vehicles straight out of the maker's box, as opposed to those which had been tweaked in various ways to go faster. It is my impression that ignorant journalists overhearing the techie engineering talk in the pits misheard it as "bog standard". I recall
that in motorsport magazines of the 1950s some of the elderly and more literate contributors would pedantically insist on referring to "box standard" when "bog" had largely become the standard. "Bog" also suggests something homespun and agricultural, so it's likely those who
enjoyed tweaking engines to go faster enjoyed the implied sneer and adopted "bog standard".
What were called "production racers" were meant to be "box standard"
vehicles, and there was a great deal of messing about defining how many had to be made and offered for sale, and how much road-legal kit they had to carry, for something to count as a production "box standard" racer.
However, I'm not going to spend days rummaging in ancient library
archives to find exact quotations. I'm sure the only reason this "box standard" business is not well known in dictionary circles is that those with ink-stained fingers tend to move in quite different social circles to those with sump-oil stained fingers. What would not be
difficult for someone with the time to do it would be to find the primacy of "box" giving way to the co-existence of "box" and "bog" and thence to to the supremacy of "bog". I noticed the transition decades ago when going through old archives because of an interest in the history of motor sport and engineering.
(Chris Malcomb, extract from the aue Deja archives)
What is the etymology of the "F-Word"? "F*CK"? (Etymology)
According to m-w.com:
Etymology: akin to Dutch fokken to breed (cattle), Swedish dialect fokka to copulate Date: 1503
Yet, according to dictionary.com (citing AH4):
Middle English, attested in pseudo-Latin fuccant, (they) fuck, deciphered from gxddbov.] Word History: The obscenity fuck is a very old word and has been considered
shocking from the first, though it is seen in print much more often now than in the past. Its first known occurrence, in code because of its unacceptability, is in a poem composed in a mixture of Latin and English sometime before 1500. The poem, which satirizes the Carmelite friars of Cambridge, England, takes its title, "Flen flyys," from the first words of its opening line, "Flen, flyys, and freris," that is, "fleas, flies, and friars." The line that contains fuck reads "Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov
xxkxzt pg ifmk." The Latin words "Non sunt in coeli, quia," mean "they [the friars] are not in heaven, since." The code "gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk" is easily broken by simply substituting the preceding letter in the alphabet,
keeping in mind differences in the alphabet and in spelling between then and now: i was then used for both i and j; v was used for both u and v; and vv was used for w. This yields "fvccant [a fake Latin form] vvivys of heli."
The whole thus reads in translation: "They are not in heaven because they fuck wives of Ely [a town near Cambridge]."
This is what I would (normally) refer to as a "folk-etymology" -- akin to an old-wives' tale. BTW I had always known it as 'FELONIOUS unlawful carnal
knowledge'.This so-called etymology is not accord with the 'real' etymologies listed in the dictionaries, but (at first blush) I would have thought it someone's attempt at being humorous. With a good dictionary (perhaps OED -- which I don't have) it would be useful to find the first
occurrence of the phrase "carnal knowledge" and the word "felonious" and see if either post-dates the first occurrence of f..k.
(extract from the aue archives at Google Groups)
What is the etymology of Coochie-Coo, Hooch, Hoochy, Hootchy, Hootchie-Cootchie? (Etymology)
Both in the sense of the female parts themselves and as in having sex, or "getting some..." The word is derived from an older form "couchee," meaning a "bed-time visit." It is derived from the French "couche," past participle of "coucher" = "to lay down." and is similar to such archaic English words as "couchant" = "lying down," "couch-fellow," = "bed-fellow" and the modern "couch" as a place to lie down (from the French "couche.") and the verb form meaning "to lie down." A "hoochie-momma" is a sexually promiscuous female in Black Vernacular. "The hootchy-cootchy" is a dance where the woman rotates her hips in a sexually suggestive manner.
What is the etymology of "Boondock"? "Boondocks"? (Etymology)
When American GIs returned from Asia at the close of World War II, besides Victory they brought home a new word to add to the lexicon -- "boondocks". It is derived from bundok the Philippine word for mountain and decribes a place that is remote and inaccessible.
What is the origin of "Blue Laws"? (Phrase origins)
Harlan Messinger: According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, "The term was originally applied to the 17th-century laws of the theocratic New Haven colony; they were called "blue laws" after the blue paper on which they were printed."
(extract from the Deja archives)
Where does the phrase 'touch wood' come from? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
There is no evidence to suggest that this phrase is anything other than the legacy of a children's game (such as tig) where 'touching wood', or being 'in den' or saying 'keys' prevented one from being caught. There is no evidence of it having been used before the 19th century - which would suggest no earlier pagan or Christian origins.
(extract from the "Guardian Unlimited's "Notes and Queries" site)
Why do we refer to a pound as a 'quid'? (Phrase origins)
Brewster's suggests it comes from 'quid pro quo', an equivalent amount for something, and also suggests that it originally referred to a sovereign.
One upon a time Gaelic-speaking Irishmen in the British Army would refer to "my money" as "mo chuid": "cuid"(pronounced, very roughly, "quid") being an omnibus Gaelic word for "thing", "piece", "possessesion", "collection", "money" (as in this case) - or even "a bout of sexual intercourse"! English soldiers adopted the reference to what they heard as "quid", to mean the pound. (extract from "Semantic Enigmas")
What is the oldest phrase in English still in current use? (Language history)
The oldest phrase that has been in everyday use in English from its coinage until the present day appears to be 'woe is me'. This occurs in the the Bible, Old Testament in Job 10:15 in the form 'woe unto me'.
Job is one of the oldest books in the Old Testament, which dates from about 1200BC, making the phrase 3,200 years old.
The first English occurrence of it in English would have been Wycliffe's Bible translation in 1382.
(extract from the "Phrase Finder" site)
What is the etymology of "Ground Zero"? (Etymology)
I often hear 'ground zero' mentioned with regard to WTC suicide attacks. Where does the phrase (especially 'zero') come from?
Spehro Pefhany: The M-W dictionary dates it from 1946. I believe it was used to help describe the effects of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ground zero is the point on the ground closest to where the blast occurred, so specifying a distance from this point describes what the radius is from the closest point to the explosion.
It's since been expanded as a metaphor for all kinds of things, many of them non-destructive. "Milan is ground-zero for raised hemlines", for example. It would probably be considered in bad taste to use it in connection with anything associated with Japan.
What is the origin of "Bad Hair Day"? (Phrase origins)
"...The term 'bad hair day' did in fact originate in the UK in 1991 uttered from the lips of Dr Alexandra Bartys, a much inspired and creative soul at the age of 17 years. Her utterances of having a bad hair day were recorded at school having woken up late and burnt the toast and then realised she could do nothing with her hair..."
(extract from the "Phrase Finder Forum")
What is the origin of "Dibs"? "Dibbies"? To have "Dibs on"? (Phrase origins)
"...Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (1998) says it is a corruption of the Standard English "division" or "divide." They say it is US use, from the 1930s on.
I don't know if that explanation was given in earlier discussions or not.
Other words they put in that category of childish claims are: aikies, bags, ballow, boners, chips, divvies, and shackies..."
(aue post by Donna Richoux, extract from the Google Archives)
What is the '@' sign called? (Other)
Officially, this symbol is called commercial at. Unofficially, most people seem to refer to it as the at sign or just at. Recently, there has also been a movement to call it the atmark. There are also numerous nicknames for it, including snail, curl, strudel, whorl, and whirlpool.
(extract from The Internet Public Library FARQ)
Why is New York City called The Big Apple? (Folklore/proverbial expressions)
The phrase "The Big Apple" referring to New York City was first used in a 1909 book, The Wayfarer in New York edited by Edward S. Martin. In a metaphor explaining the sentiment in the Midwest that the city receives more than a fair share of the nation's wealth, he explains: " 'New York [was] merely one of the fruits of that great tree whose roots go down in the Mississippi Valley, and whose branches spread from one ocean to the other... [But] the big apple [New York] gets a disproportionate share of the national sap.' " (Irving Lewis Allen, City in Slang [Oxford University Press, 1995], p. 62)
"The Big Apple" took on a different connotation when it was made popular in the 1920's by the New York Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. FitzGerald. He heard it used by African-American stable hands at the racetrack in New Orleans when referring to New York's racing scene which they considered the "big time." FitzGerald liked the phrase so much he titled his racing column "Around the Big Apple." In the introduction to his column from the February 18, 1924 issue FitzGerald writes: "The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York."
(extract from The Museum of the City of New York)
Origin of the word "Hoax" (Etymology)
The word hoax first came into popular use sometime in the middle to late eighteenth century. It is thought to have been a contraction of the word hocus from the conjuror's term hocus pocus. The term hocus pocus itself first appeared in the early seventeenth century. It might have derived from the assumed name of a conjuror in the time of King James who called himself 'The Kings Majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus' because with the performance of every trick he used to call out the nonsense phrase, "Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo" (later magicians were known to use the phrase "Hax pax max deus adimax"). This phrase was itself probably an imitation (or mockery) of the phrase used by priests of the Church of Rome when they performed the act of transubstantiation, "hoc est corpus".
(extract from the "Museum of Hoaxes" site)
What is the origin of "squaw"? "Nebraska"? "Sioux"? "Dakota"? (Etymology)
'Squaw' is one of a number of words in English that were borrowed from Eastern Algonquian languages, sometimes via French, during the early contact period. The source in this case is conventionally Massachusett squas (Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd Edition). The term meant 'young woman' in Massachusett and is attested as early as 1624. In fact, related words derived from Proto-Algonquian *et^kwe:wa (t^ represents a theta - a th sound) 'woman' occur throughout the Algonquian language family. Mostly they're fairly similar to the proto-form and each other (cf. Cree iskwe:w), though in a few languages the descendant form is so modified by accumulated sound changes that only someone familiar with the changes involved would recognize it, e.g., Arapahoe hthei. Bright's useful summary of this cites Cutler 1994 and Goddard 1996, 1997 for the etymology of the term.
(extract from John E. Koontz's "Etymology" page)
What is the etymology of "Maidenhead" (Berks)? (Etymology)
Skeat (followed by Ekwall) takes the meaning to be "'a landing-place for maidens', i.e. a place where landing from a boat was very easily accomplished.": The Place-Names of Berkshire (1911).
What is the origin of "To Paint the Town Red"?
Funk, in *A Hog on Ice* (1948)  says: ----
Nowadays this has no greater significance than to go on a spree, usually in the company with others of like mind. As far as the records go, the term is less than a hundred years old [from 1948, mind you], but as is so often the case, usage probably antedates the printed record by several generations. I think it likely that the first town that was painted red was one actually fired by American Indians on the warpath, one outlined by the pigment of red flame. Figurative paint was probably applied, in later years, by young cowboys from outlying ranches who, bent on riotous revelry, rode into the main streets of a town whooping at the top of their lungs and firing their guns into the air as if actually a band of Comanches.
But Professor T. F. Crane, of Cornell, formerly president of the American Folklore Society, offered the opinion some twenty years ago that the peoples of the earth since the dawn of time have used "red" as a symbol of violence;
hence that the expression is a natural figure of speech, signifying "to do violence in town." (--Jack Gavin of aue quoting Charles E. Funk)
The "Oxford Comma" (Grammar)
"Can you tell me what the Oxford comma is? I came across it recently in The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter. I wonder whether it may refer to the practice of putting a comma after the penultimate item in a list, before the and - for example "eggs, bacon, and sausage" rather than "eggs, bacon and sausage", which is how I would write it."
You have it exactly right. That form of punctuation is uncommon in British English, as it obviously is in South Africa, but it's a characteristic part of the house style of the Oxford University Press, hence the name.
...It's also called the Harvard comma from the house style of the Harvard University Press, but the more general term is serial comma. It's common in American English and it is recommended in the Chicago Manual of Style and other US style guides, though American newspapers frequently omit it, supposedly to save space.
(extract from the "World Wide Words Q & A Section)
(DW) What is the origin of "the whole nine yards"?(Phrase origins)
What is the origin of "Sweetbread"?(Phrase origins)
What is a "shpritz"?(Phrase origins)
(Williams) What is a metaphor? a metonymy? a synecdoche? an oxymoron? a hyperbole? a zeugma? an epizeuxis? a tautology?(Phrase origins)
http://www.unipissing.ca/faculty/williams/figofspe.htm#Figures of Omission
(WWW) What is the origin of "hocus-pocus"?(Phrase origins)
(WWW) What is the etymology of "pie"?(Phrase origins)
(WWW) What is the etymology of "paparazzo"?(Phrase origins)
(WWW) What is the etymology of "bated breath"? ("baited breath"?)(Phrase origins)
(WWW) What is the etymology of "balderdash"?(Phrase origins)
(WWW) What is the etymology of "ambient"?(Phrase origins)
(WWW) What is the etymology of "ETAOIN SHRDLU"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) Why are pounds, when used as a weight, abbreviated "lbs"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the source of "the whole kit and kaboodle"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of the word "posh"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of the word "loggerhead?"(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of the term big cheese as in 'He's a big cheese in the rugby world'?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of the phrase "to the nines"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of the phrase "goody two shoes"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of Elephant and Castle? Is it really from Infanta of Castile?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "to have a millstone around one's neck"? "put through the mill"? "all is grist for the mill"? "keeping your nose to the grindstone"? "run of the mill"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "the whole ball of wax"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "that's all she wrote"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "scot free"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "on the wagon"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "on tenterhooks"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "mind your 'p's and 'q's"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "hooligan"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "honeymoon"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "going to Hell in a handbasket"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "boondocks"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "bodacious"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "beyond the pale"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "beck and call"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin of "at sixes and sevens"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is the origin and actual meaning of bob's your uncle?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What is a "mondegreen"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What explaination can be given for the rhyme, "Pop Goes the Weasel"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) What are the names of some exotic phobias?(Phrase origins)
(WD) The other day, I used the expression brass monkey weather and was asked to explain. Any ideas?(Phrase origins)
(WD) The bee's knees informally means the best, the most desirable. How did the saying originate?(Phrase origins)
(WD) My new puppy has really gotten my goat, and I was wondering how the heck that phrase came to be?(Phrase origins)
(WD) Is there a story behind the phrase donkey's years?(Phrase origins)
(WD) Is it true that to "let the cat out of the bag" relates to flogging with a cat o' nine tails?(Phrase origins)
(WD) I've heard the expression brand spanking new many times and am curious about its origin. Any ideas?(Phrase origins)
(WD) I'm not sure how you would spell "hunky dorey", but it means 'just great', or something like that. Where does it come from?(Phrase origins)
(WD) I have heard an American friend of mine use the phrase kitty corner to describe things that are diagonally opposed, as for example: 'The drugstore is kitty corner to the ice-cream parlor'. Have you heard this phrase before and do you have any clue a(Phrase origins)
(WD) I am looking into how the expression "on the fritz" came about. Please help.(Phrase origins)
(WD) I am looking for the origin and meaning of the phrase "Heavens to Betsy".(Phrase origins)
(WD) I am interested in the phrase hammer and tongs because it is used by our fraternity (Theta Tau, a professional fraternity for engineering students). We are of the belief that this is a very old English phrase(Phrase origins)
(WD) During an Internet dialogue, the question came up - why do people say Jesus H Christ? It never seems to be any other letter. It sounds American, but what does it stand for and where did it originate? Holy seems to be a strong candidate, or could it(Phrase origins)
(WD) Do you know where the phrase Frick and Frack originated? I'm sure it wasn't because of the Back Street Boys.(Phrase origins)
(WD) Did the phrase "a moot point" originally mean "a debatable point"? Nowadays it seems to mean "an irrelevant point" or even "a point so irrelevant it's not worth debating". Some actually have taken to referring to it as a mute point. What's the histo(Phrase origins)
(WD) Can you tell me what the "Oxford comma" is? I came across it recently in The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter. I wonder whether it may refer to the practice of putting a comma after the penultimate item in a list, before the and - for example "eggs, b(Phrase origins)
(WD) Can you enlighten me about the origins of "mad as a hatter"?(Phrase origins)
(WD) Any thoughts on the origin of bog-standard, as in bog-standard comprehensive?(Phrase origins)
(WD) Any ideas on the origins of the expression "nitty-gritty"? I heard today a rather horrible suggestion that it referred to the debris left in the bottom of slave ships after their voyages, once the slaves remaining alive had been removed.(Phrase origins)
(WD) AUE Contributor Mike asks, I was struck by the phrase "to queer the pitch" as I used it the other day. What game? How did one "queer the pitch"?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) Why were WWI infantry called "doughboys"? What does the "D" in D-Day stand for? How far is a klick?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) Why is New York City called "The Big Apple"?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) What is the source of "Something Wicked This Way Comes"?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) What is the right name for the @ sign?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) What is the proper usage of neither and nor? How do I use who and whom correctly? What's a present participle?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) What is the origin of the phrase "Once in a blue moon"?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) What is a group of crows called? What is a group of [your animal] called?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) What about some words that end in -gry?(Phrase origins)
(IPL) My name is..., and I've always wondered what it means. How can I find out?(Phrase origins)
(CA) Did the word "hobo" come from the town "Hoboken"?(Phrase origins)
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