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Tuesday, 14 February 2017


All tickety-boo is a phrase meaning all is fine and dandy" It may be an Anglicized version of the Hindi phrase tikai babu meaning: "it’s all right, sir". Or it could derive from the phrase "that’s the ticket" from the 19th century when charities gave tickets to the poor to be exchanged for soup, coal and clothing.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. This means being faced with two dangers of equal severity, and is derived from Greek mythology, which tells of the treacherous waters through which Odysseus had to pass between monsters Scylla and Charybdis.

"Beyond the pale" is a phrase meaning outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour. The term "pale" was applied to various territories under English control and especially to the area around Dublin in Ireland, before the 16th century, in which English law had to be obeyed. It derivation is from Latin palus, meaning 'a stake.' Anyone who lived beyond this fence was thought to be dangerous and uncivilized by the English.

Bob's Your Uncle. Bob's Yer Uncle is British slang for "And so it is done." It came into being when Arthur Balfour was promoted to Chief Secretary of Ireland in 1887 by an act of nepotism by his uncle Robert, Lord Salisbury.

Robert Cecil - Lord Salisbury

Come to the end of one’s tether, meaning to be at the end of one’s patience, alludes to a tethered animal which can graze only as far as the rope allows.

Dog Days. The term "dog days" has nothing to do with dogs. It dates back to Roman times, when it was believed that Sirius, the Dog Star, added its heat to that of the sun from July 3 to August 11, creating exceptionally high temperatures. The Romans called the period dies caniculares, or "days of the dog."

Go Doolally. The phrase go doolally, meaning to go mad originates from the Indian garrison town of Deolali where British soldiers waited, sometimes for months, to be taken back to Britain after their tour of duty. There was nothing to do and many may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a Nutshell The phrase "In a nutshell" used when summing something up in a concise way, originates in a story of Pliny. The Roman scholar describes how the philosopher Cicero saw a copy of Homer’s epic poem the Iliad being written on a piece of parchment small enough to fit into the shell of a walnut.

Keep Up with the Jones. There was an real Jones family behind "Keeping up with the Joneses"—they built a mansion in 1853, prompting a building boom in New York.

Know your Onions If you know your onions on a subject, you're considered very knowledgeable. But you need to make the acquaintance of one onion in particular: Mr Charles Talbut Onions (September 10, 1873 – January 8, 1965) , a 20th –century lexicographer who worked on the Oxford English Dictionary. His name became a byword for his craft.

To Knuckle Under, meaning to submit to someone or something, refers to an old custom of striking the underside of a table with the knuckles when defeated in an argument.

Left in the Lurch. The phrase left in the lurch comes from the game of cribbage, in which a lurch is the situation where a player has scored only 30 holes, having not yet turned the corner or pegged his 31st hole.

Cribbage board By Andrew Malone - Wikipedia

Like a House on Fire. Many of the early English homes, built of timber with thatched roofs, presented a great fire hazard. A spark from the open grate could easily set aflame the flimsy wooden dwelling and, in no time, reduce it to ashes. The traumatic experience created the phrase "like a house on fire" as a metaphor for extraordinary speed and intensity, or for when two people get on very well with each other. In America the phrase was popularized by Washington Irving's use of it in his 1809 humorous and satirical History of New York.

Long in the Tooth. Long in the tooth meaning "old" was originally used to describe horses. As horses age, their gums recede, giving the impression that their teeth are growing. The longer the teeth look, the older the horse.

Off the Cuff. The phrase "off the cuff" comes from the 1900s, when waiter's cuffs, made of celluloid, were detachable. Much more quickly soiled than the shirt, they could be removed to be washed separately. It was also realized that instead of chalking up orders on slates, which was the custom then, waiters could note them down on their cuffs so much more easily. Once they had served the food and the bill was settled, the cuffs could be wiped clean again.

Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride. Listerine coined the phrase "Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride" to sell oral antiseptic to women.

On the Pull. The phrase 'on the pull' meaning a sexual liaison was used for the first time in the girls' magazine Jackie in 1988. The 'pull' is the endeavor to attract or draw oneself.

On the Wagon. The phrase 'on the wagon' refers to guards taking convicts to the gallows stopped off for a drink while the condemned was kept outside on a wagon.

Shake a Leg. In the 19th century, sailors’ wives were allowed to sleep aboard in hammocks while a ship was in port. In the mornings, the bosun would rouse reluctant risers, shouting ‘shake a leg or a purser’s stocking’; if the limb was a woman’s, she could stay put.

Three Sheets to the Wind. Three sheets to the wind, meaning very drunk, refers back to naval tradition. A sheet in this context was actually a rope securing the bottom of a sail, and to have them flapping in the wind meant they were all untied, and that the boat would lurch about like a drunken sailor.

To Wear One’s Heart on One’s Sleeve, meaning to expose your secret intentions, refers to the custom of tying a lady’s ‘favor’ (her ribbon) to one's arm, revealing one's feelings for her.

The phrases "long time no see" and "no can do" are not natural English phrases, and originated as literal translations of the phrases in Cantonese, hence the simplified grammar.

A "fossil word" is a word that is no longer used in general speech but remains in use because it is part of an idiom. For example, "helter skelter" has been obsolete for years, but people still use it in conversation thanks to a popular idiom. There are many other examples.

March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles by Harry Oliver, Daily Mail, Europress Encyclopedia

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