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Our members originate from Monaghan, Kilkenny, Galway. Affiliated with our Shannon Family are Dooley, Burke, Martin & more. Currently spread around Monaghan, Kilkenny, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Dublin, Galway, London, Holland, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia

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The Cat's Pyjamas

Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by CathyCat on Sun 20 Nov 2016 - 2:15

... or to be more precise:

'Spilling the beans on the cat's pyjamas: Popular expressions - what they mean and where we got them'

is the title of a book I'm currently reading. 

The title is self-explanatory.  Written by Judy Parkinson, author of 'I Before E (Except After C)', this extract from the Foreword to the book gives an idea of what it's all about:

The English language has flourished over the centuries.  Some turns of phrase are 'as old as Methuselah' - our ever flexible language often revives phrases that we thought had 'bitten the dust' - and new words and expressions creep into the lexicon all the time.  There's a different 'flavour of the month' for each generation.

So 'strike while the iron's hot; if you want 'to bone up' on the origins of some of the curiosities of the English language, 'take a dekko' through these pages and you'll be 'in seventh heaven'.

This book is 'the bee's knees', 'the cat's whiskers' and 'the cat's pyjamas', all rolled into one, as it 'spills the beans' on the origins of all these expressions and many more.

I will 'make no bones' about it and I won't 'beat about the bush' (after all, don't forget I'm 'talking turkey' here):  this book contains some fascinating and remarkable stories about our best-loved and most colourful phrases.

The staples of our language - those familiar, well-worn expressions and clichés - originate from the most diverse sources.  From the high street to Homer, from advertising to America, from army to air force, from stage to screen ... it's an 'all-singing', all-dancing', round-the-world-trip through our language's history.

......... >>>

The pages of this book are filled with explanations and origins of these expressions that we use every day.  I have always been interested in finding out how certain accepted sayings came about.  Usually there is a story behind each one - some of them we may already know, but interesting to discover different historical explanations & speculative theories about the true stories behind them all.
I'm going to take an example of one each day to post up here, starting with:
(I think the last suggestion given is the most likely one)


There are many synonymous phrases for this enthusiastic statement that everything is 'fine and dandy'.

'Tickety-boo' may come from the word 'ticket', as in 'that's the ticket'.  In the nineteenth century, charities issued tickets to the poor that could be exchanged for soup, clothing and coal.

Other sources suggest that the phrase has its origins with the British Army in India, and that it may be an Anglicized version of the Hindi phrase tikai babu, which means 'it's all right, sir'.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book Another nail in the coffin

Post by CathyCat on Sun 20 Nov 2016 - 11:20


A depressing phrase which is applied to a development that makes a situation progressively worse; one more factor to plunge a person into great disfavour, to hasten his dismissal, downfall or death.  The final nail can be compared with 'the last straw'.

Peter Pindar (Dr J. Wolcot, 1738-1819) wrote in one of his Expostulary Odes (1782):  'Care to our coffin adds a nail, no doubt.'

The phrase was also adopted by smokers.  As early as the 1920s, they referred to cigarettes as 'coffin nails', and this expression became the stock response whenever someone accepted yet another cigarette.

At the time, they were referring to the hazards of a smoker's cough; the links between smoking, cancer and heart disease were only recognised later (when cigarettes earned another nickname - 'cancer sticks').
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book To bite the bullet

Post by CathyCat on Tue 22 Nov 2016 - 0:36


To undertake the most challenging part of a feat of endurance, to face danger with courage and fortitude, to behave stoically or to knuckle down to some difficult or unpleasant task.

The expression originated in field surgery before the use of anaesthetics.  A surgeon about to operate on a wounded soldier would give him a bullet to bite on, both to distract him from the pain and to make him less likely to cry out.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book On the nail

Post by CathyCat on Tue 22 Nov 2016 - 12:10


This is a very old phrase meaning to pay immediately or on the spot.  Generally, it means 'now', 'at once', 'exactly' or 'dead on'.

In medieval times, a nail was a shallow vessel mounted on a post or stand and business deals were closed by payments placed in the 'nail'.  It is said that if a buyer was satisfied with the sample of grain shown on the nail, he paid on the spot.

Outside the Bristol Corn Exchange, such nails can still be seen in the form of four bronze pillars.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book To run the gauntlet

Post by CathyCat on Thu 24 Nov 2016 - 16:18


To be attacked on all sides or, in modern use, to be severely criticized or to try to extracate oneself from a situation while under attack on all sides.

The expression appeared in English at the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-48) as 'gantlope', meaning the passage between two files of soldiers.  It is an amalgamation of the Swedish words galop (passageway), gata (way), and lop (course).

'Running the gauntlet' was a form of punishment said to have originated in Sweden amongst soldiers and sailors.  The company or crew, armed with whips, thongs or rods, were assembled in two facing rows, and the miscreant had to run the course between them, while each man dealt him as severe a blow as he thought befitted the misdemeanour.

Native Americans also had a similar, more brutal, form of retribution, because here the victim was not intended to survive the blows he suffered during his run.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book To be given the third degree

Post by CathyCat on Fri 25 Nov 2016 - 21:10


This is to be the object of detailed questioning to get to the bottom of an inquiry, whether it be criminal or general.

One possible source of the phrase is Free Masonry, where the third degree is the highest level of membership.  Those wishing to be considered as Master Masons must sit an intensive exam with interrogatory-style questions.

In America, the term is applied to the use by the police of exhaustive questioning to extract a confession or incriminating information from a suspect, criminal, accomplice or witness.

'Third-degree treatment' is also used as a euphemism for torture.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book To give short shrift

Post by CathyCat on Sat 26 Nov 2016 - 17:56


To treat someone peremptorily and unsympathetically, without heeding any mitigating arguments, or simply to make short work of something.

Shrift is defined as a confession to a priest.  'Short shrift' originally referred to the limited amount of time given to a convict between condemnation, confession and absolution, and then finally execution.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book Here's mud in your eye!

Post by CathyCat on Sat 26 Nov 2016 - 17:58


A drinking toast, the sentiments of which could be read either way.  One interpretation is that it is to wish good fortune, as it was used in the trenches of the First World War when soldiers would naturally rather mud was thrown in their eye than anything more lethal.

Another, somewhat less good-natured, theory comes from horse racing, in which, with one's own horse out in front, it will be kicking mud into the eyes of the slower runners behind.

The phrase itself is thought to originate from a Bible story - featured in chapter nine of the Gospel of St John - when Jesus puts mud in the eyes of a blind man and restores his sight.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book No room to swing a cat

Post by CathyCat on Sun 27 Nov 2016 - 18:56


A commonly used description for a restricted or cramped space.

There are various suggested origins for this phrase, 'cat' was an abbreviation for 'cat-o-nine-tails', a whip of nine knotted lashes or 'tails', which from the eighteenth century was used in the army and navy, as well as on criminals in gaol, and was not formally banned in England as an instrument of punishment until 1948.  Since space was restricted on sailing ships, whippings were carried out on deck, as there was 'no room to swing a cat' elsewhere on board.

However, while this may seem the most likely origin, 'cat' is also an old Scottish word for a rogue, and if the expression derives from this, the swing is that of the condemned criminal hanging from the gallows.

Equally, suspending live cats in leather sacks and then swinging the sacks as moving targets for archers  was once a popular, if barbaric, amusement, and this too has been suggested as a source for the phrase.
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book Straight from the horse's mouth

Post by CathyCat on Mon 28 Nov 2016 - 14:58


Some knowledge received direct from the highest authority, from the person whose word need not be doubted.

The expression comes from horseracing, where the tips to be trusted came from those closest to the breeders and trainers.  The phrase implies that you've heard something from the best possible source - in this case, the horse itself.

A variation on this as a source is the idea that the true age of a horse can be ascertained by an examination of its mouth.  The first permanent horse teeth appear in the centre of the jaw at the age of two and a half.  A year later, a second pair appears, and at between four and five years, the third pair appears.

So, no matter what an owner may say about a horse's age, the evidence is in the horse's mouth.

    Current date/time is Tue 22 May 2018 - 14:24