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The Cat's Pyjamas

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CathyCat
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

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH

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.

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CathyCat
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Book Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by CathyCat on Wed 30 Nov 2016 - 10:42

TO PASS THE BUCK

To evade blame or responsibility and shift all criticism elsewhere. An American phrase from the game of poker, the 'buck' being the token object that is passed to the person whose turn it is to deal the next hand.

Originally, the token was a buckhorn knife, so called because its handle was made from the horn of a buck, or male deer (although some sources argue that the buck was either a piece of buckshot or a buck's tail, which early hunters carried as a talisman).

The earliest recorded use of the phrase is by Mark Twain (1835-1910) in 1872, in the first decade after the end of the American Civil War (1861-65), when poker or 'stud poker' - the stake was probably orignally a stud horse - were played in bars by lumberjacks, miners and hunters,those being the days before it became known as a 'gentleman's' game.



THE BUCK STOPS HERE

A declaration meaning 'this is where ultimate responsibility lies'.

The most likely origin for the phrase is the poker table, where a buckhorn knife was placed before the player whose turn it was to deal.  'Passing the buck' meant passing responsiiblity on to the next player.

The phrase was made famous by us President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972); president 1945-53), who had it handwritten on a sign on his desk at the White House to remind himself and those around him that he alone had the ultimate responsibility for every decision of his administration.

Some twenty-five years later, President Jimmy Carter (1924-) had the legend reinstated with the same idea in mind.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book As happy as a sandboy

Post by CathyCat on Thu 1 Dec 2016 - 12:52

AS HAPPY AS A SANDBOY

This means to be very happy or in high spirits.

It is a traditional expression from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when sandboys or sandmen drove their donkeys through the streets selling bags of sand taken from beaches.  The sand was used by householders for their gardens, by builders, and by publicans for sanding their floors.

The merriness of the sandboys was probably due, in some part, to the temptation of spending their takings in the hostelries to which they delivered the sand.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book To come up to scratch

Post by CathyCat on Fri 2 Dec 2016 - 15:09

TO COME UP TO SCRATCH

To be good enough to pass a test; to make the grade.

This is a colloquialism from the boxing ring dating back to the nineteenth century.

Under the London Prize Ring Rules introduced in 1839, a round in a prizefight ended when one of the fighters was knocked down.  After an interval of thirty seconds, the floored fighter was given eight seconds to make his way, unaided, to a mark scratched in the centre of the ring.

If he failed to reach the mark, he had not 'come up to scratch' and was declared the loser of the bout.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by CathyCat on Sat 3 Dec 2016 - 14:09

TO FIGHT LIKE KILKENNY CATS

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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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Cat got your tongue?

Post by CathyCat on Mon 5 Dec 2016 - 2:52

CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE?

A question directed at a silent partner in a conversation to ask why they're not speaking.

The earliest written example appeared in 1911, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but it may have been around since the mid nineteenth century.

As to its origins, numerous theories abound; none firmly proved.  Some argue that it must stem from ancient Middle Eastern punishment techniques, when liars' tongues were ripped out and then fed to kings' cats; while others cite the much-feared whip the 'cat-o'-nine-tails' as the source of the phrase, insinuating that this nasty weapon, used to flog sailors, forced them into silence - both through fear and pain.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Hueandcry

Post by CathyCat on Mon 5 Dec 2016 - 12:01

HUE AND CRY

A noisy commotion over some spot of bother.

The phrase must have been in use since the beginning of the last millennium because the Norman French word huer means 'to shout'.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, 'hue and cry' was the old legal term for an official outcry made when calling out for assistance, 'with horn and with voice', in the pursuit of a suspected criminal escaping arrest.  All able-bodied men were legally required to join the pursuit - if they refused, they risked being held liable for any theft committed by the fleeing felon.  Thieves failing to respond to the 'hue and cry' were liable to greater penalties once they were caught.

We now chiefly use the phrase to describe the way the news media clamour for someone to be held responsible for high-profile crimes or political mistakes.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book To steal someone's thunder

Post by CathyCat on Tue 6 Dec 2016 - 16:43

TO STEAL SOMEONE ELSE'S THUNDER

To adopt someone else's own special methods or ideas as if they were one's own.  The story behind the origin of this phrase was recounted by the eighteenth-century actor-manager, playwright annd Poet Laureate Colley Cibber (1671-1757) in his Lives of the Poets (1753), and was also mentioned by Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in his poem The Dunciad (1728).

Legend has it that John Dennis (1657-1734), an actor-manager of the early part of the eighteenth century, had invented a machine to make stage thunder, which he employed in his own play, Appius and Virginia, performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1709.

However, Mr Dennis, whatever his inventive talents, was not a particularly gifted playwright; the play did not fill the house and was soon taken off in favour of a production of Macbeth by another company.

Dennis went to their opening night and was astonished to hear his thunder machine in action.  He leapt to his feet and shouted, 'That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder but not my play!'

Since the eighteenth century, the phrase has subsequently been refined to become 'to steal one's thunder'.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Still waters run deep

Post by CathyCat on Wed 7 Dec 2016 - 13:38

STILL WATERS RUN DEEP

However quiet or calm someone may seem on the surface, do not be deceived; there is probably great depth of knowledge, personality or a hot temper lurking below.

This is a Latin proverb, thought to come from Cato's Morals.  The version we use today was first printed in an anonymously authored Middle English verse work 'Cursor Mundi' ('Runner of the World'; c.1300), which includes the line:  'There the flode is deppist the water standis stillist.'

The Malayan proverb, 'Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm', means much the same.

It is never a good idea to show off or talk too much, because as everyone knows, empty vessels make the most noise.  Speech is silver, but silence is golden.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by CathyCat on Sat 10 Dec 2016 - 13:09

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

To begin again, or, less formally, 'Back to where  you started, sunshine!'  This colloquialism possibly derives from board games like snakes and ladders, in which players, through bad luck or poor judgement, have to move their pieces back to the starting point.

Another suggestion is that it comes from the early days of radio football commentaries, when diagrams of the pitch, divided into numbered squares, were printed in radio listings magazines so that listeners could follow the game.

The expression's meaning is similar to 'Back to the drawing board', which means to go back and rethink a complete project or scheme.  Aircraft designers during the Second World War used this phrase when a concept or even a whole design for a new machine proved unworkaable and had to be started all over again.
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CathyCat
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book To bark up the wrong tree

Post by CathyCat on Sun 11 Dec 2016 - 19:05

TO BARK UP THE WRONG TREE

To be totally off the mark, to waste energy following the wrong course of action, or to have one's attention diverted off the subject in hand.  The phrase dates back to the 1800s and neatly puns a dog's bark with tree bark.

Its origins stem from the American sport of raccoon hunting.  The hounds of the hunting pack are trained to mark the tree in which the raccoon they are pursuing takes shelter, and then to howl at its base until their master arrives to shoot the animal.  The hounds may bark up at the wrong tree, however, if the raccoon has managed to evade them.

The expression first became popular in the early nineteenth century, appearing in the works of James Hall (1793-1868), Davy Cockett (1786-1836) - himself a great raccoon hunter - and Albert Pike (1809-91).


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