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The Cat's Pyjamas

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CathyCat
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Book To rub salt into the wound

Post by CathyCat on Thu 5 Jan 2017 - 13:13

TO RUB SALT INTO THE WOUND

To increase someone's pain or shame.

The phrase alludes to an ancient nautical punishment for misbehaviour by members of a ship's crew.  Errant sailors were flogged on the bare back, and afterwards salt was rubbed into the wounds.  Salt is a well-known antiseptic, so it helped to heal the lacerations, but it also made them much more painful.

An extension of this phrase is the saying 'Don't rub it in', an admission that one may have made a fool of oneself, but people should not carry on reminding one.

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CathyCat
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Book To save one's bacon

Post by CathyCat on Fri 6 Jan 2017 - 20:37

TO SAVE ONE'S BACON

To have a narrow escape, to be rescued from some dire situation without injury or loss.

This expression dates from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century when bacon was a significant part of the diet.

According to Nathan Bailey's Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1720, 'bacon' was also a slang term to describe booty of any kind which fell to beggars, petty thieves, highwaymen and the like in their enterprises.  Bacon thus became synonymous with livelihood, so 'to save someone's bacon' there took the meaning 'to save a person'.

'To bring home the bacon', meaning to earn the money to maintain the household, describes the custom at country fares of greasing a live pig and letting it loose among a group of blindfolded contestants.  Whoever successfully caught the greased pig could keep it and so 'bring home the bacon'.

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CathyCat
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Book To send someone to Coventry

Post by CathyCat on Sat 7 Jan 2017 - 15:13

TO SEND SOMEONE TO COVENTRY

To refuse to speak to someone, to ostracize a person or to ignore them.

At the time of the Great Rebellion (or English Civil War) between 1642 and 1649, Royalists were often taken to Coventry to be imprisoned.  The story goes that because the city was strongly Protestant and pro-Parliament, the local people would shun the incoming Cavaliers, so when a soldier was sent to Coventry, he would be given 'the cold shoulder'.

Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (1609-74), referred to Royalist prisoners captured in Birmingham who were 'sent to Coventry' - effectively into exile.

To take this a step further, to refuse to have any dealing with a person or group of people as a means of protest or coercion is to 'boycott' them, a term which dates from 1880, when such methods were used by the Irish Land League against one Captain C.C. Boycott (1832-97), a land agent in County Mayo, to try to persuade him to reduce rents.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Show a leg

Post by CathyCat on Mon 9 Jan 2017 - 11:44

SHOW A LEG

The summons to 'show a leg' or 'shake a leg' is a morning wake-up call.  It is a naval phrase and was the traditional alarm call used to rouse the hands from their hammocks.

It comes from the days in the mid nineteenth century when women were allowed to sleep onboard ship when the navy was in port.  At the cry of 'Show a leg!, if a woman's limb was shaken out of the hammock, she was allowed to lie in, but if the hairy leg of a rating appeared, he had to get up and get on with his duties.

Later in the nineteenth century, to 'shake a leg' came to mean 'to dance', while in America it meant 'to hurry up'.


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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book The bottom line

Post by CathyCat on Tue 10 Jan 2017 - 17:47

THE BOTTOM LINE

The main point of an argument, the basic characteristic of something, the actual value of a financial deal, or the nub or truth of the matter.

The phrase itself is an accounting term, and refers to the figure at the end of a financial statement, indicating the net profit or loss of a company.
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CathyCat
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Book To ask something point blank

Post by CathyCat on Wed 11 Jan 2017 - 11:45

TO ASK SOMETHING POINT BLANK

To ask a direct question.  This is a sixteenth-century phrase from the sport of archery.  The targets had a white (blanc in French) central spot, so the arrows were pointed at the white, that is point blanc

In military, and especially artillery usage, 'point blanc' is a range at which there is no fall of shot due to gravity - in other words, a very close range.  (Any projectile from a firearm 'drops' from the point of aim as the range increases, which in turn means that the further the target, the higher the weapon has to be aimed above it.)

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book The back of beyond

Post by CathyCat on Fri 13 Jan 2017 - 11:05

THE BACK OF BEYOND

This is an Australian expression, nineteenth century in origin, which is now commonly used to describe any remote area, but which originally referred to the vast spaces of the interior of the country, the Great Outback.

The 'back', reduced from 'back country' is the outlying territory behind the settled regions, and the term 'backblock' is found in 1850, referring to those territories of Australia split up by the government into blocks for settlement.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Cock-and-bull story

Post by CathyCat on Fri 13 Jan 2017 - 11:06

COCK-AND-BULL STORY

A rambling or incredible tale; a tall story invented as an excuse, a lie.

There are various possible explanations for the derivation of this term.  In the coaching days of the seventeenth century, the London coach changed horses at the Bull Inn and the Birmingham coach at the Cock Inn.  The waiting passengers of both coaches would exchange stories and jokes.  The 'Cock-and-Bull' story is said to have originated from this scenario.  The phrase may derive, however, from ancient fables in which cocks and bulls and other animals conversed.  In his Boyle Lecture of 1692, Richard Bentley (1662-1742) stated:

     That cocks and bulls might discourse, and hinds and panthers hold conferences about religion.

While in his novel Tristram Shandy (1759), Laurence Sterne (1713-68) wrote:

     'L--d'! said my mother.  'What is all this story about?
     'A Cock and Bull,' said Yorick - 'And one of the best of its kind, I have ever heard.'

Today, both words are commonly employed separately in a slang or vulgar context.  'Bull' is used as in 'what a load of bull', politely avoiding saying the word 'bullshit', while 'cock' speaks for itself.

A Scottish satire or lampooning story is known as a 'cockalane', which is taken directly from the French phrase of the same meaning as 'cock and bull': coq et l'ane (cock and ass, donkey or fool).


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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Post by CathyCat on Sat 14 Jan 2017 - 13:00

COLD ENOUGH TO FREEZE THE BALLS OFF A BRASS MONKEY

This means that the weather is extremely cold, and although the expression sounds delightfully vulgar,
it was not in fact originally a reference to monkeys' testicles.



A brass monkey is a type of rack in which cannon balls were stored.  Being brass, the 'monkey' contracted in cold weather, resulting in the cannonballs being ejected.

The expression has also mutated to a shortened form, again a comment on the temperature, as 'brass monkey weather'.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Saved by the bell

Post by CathyCat on Mon 16 Jan 2017 - 0:06

SAVED BY THE BELL

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

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

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

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

From the same derivation, we have night workers on the 'graveyard shift' and sailors on the 'graveyard watch' between midnight and dawn.
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by CathyCat on Mon 16 Jan 2017 - 17:51

TO SEE A MAN ABOUT A DOG

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

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

The phrase originally referred to betting on dog racing.


    Current date/time is Tue 22 May 2018 - 14:32