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The Cat's Pyjamas

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CathyCat
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book To sit above the salt

Post by CathyCat on Tue 7 Feb 2017 - 14:05

TO SIT ABOVE THE SALT

To sit in a place of distinction at the dinner table.

Formerly, the family 'saler' or salt cellar was an ornate silver centrepiece, placed in the middle of the table.  Special or honoured guests of distinction sat above the saler - that is, between the salt and the head of the table where the host sat - while dependants and not-quite-so-important personages sat below.

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CathyCat
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Book A skeleton in the closet

Post by CathyCat on Wed 8 Feb 2017 - 13:56

A SKELETON IN THE CLOSET

A domestic source of humiliation or shame which a family or individual conspires to conceal from others.  Every family is said to have one, and certainly these days it seems that every public figure does too, whether it is in the form of an ex-mistress or lover, or some ancient but discreditable financial scam.

The expression seems to have been in use from the early 1800s and may have derived from the gothic horror stories popular at the time, in which murders were concealed by hiding the corpose in a cupboard, or bricking it up in a wall.  In 1853, it appeared in the figurative sense in The Newcomes by William Makepeace Thackeray; And it is from these that we shall arrive at some particulars regarding the Newcome family, which will show us that they have a skeleton or two in their closets s well as their neighbours.

An apocryphal source of the phrase is a story in which a person without a single care or trouble in the world had to be found.  After a long search, a squeaky-clean lady was found, but to the great surprise of all, after she had proved herself on al counts, she went upstairs and opened a closet, which contained a human skeleton.
I try and keep my trouble to myself, but every night my husband makes me kiss that skeleton,' she said.  She then explained that the skeleton was that of her husband's rival, killed in a duel over her.

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CathyCat
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Book To take forty winks

Post by CathyCat on Thu 9 Feb 2017 - 18:16

TO TAKE FORTY WINKS

A colloquial term for a short nap or a doze.

Quite why shutting one eye forty times has come to mean a quick snooze is unclear, but it could have something to do with the fact that the number forty appears frequently in the scriptures and used to be thought of as a holy number.

Moses was on the Mount for forty days and forty nights; Elijah was fed by ravens for forty days; the rain of the Flood fell forty days, and another forty days passed before Noah opened the window of the ark.  Christ fasted for forty days and he was seen forty days after his Ressurection.

Modern colloquialisms for a quick nap include a 'zizz' or 'to catch a few zeds' - alluding to the 'Zzz's drawn in cartoons indicating that the character is asleep.  Busy people and politicians who work late into the night maintain their faculties by taking 'power naps' to recharge their batteries.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book To take a rain check

Post by CathyCat on Fri 10 Feb 2017 - 13:25

TO TAKE A RAIN CHECK

A rain check is the receipt or counterfoil of a baseball ticket that can be used at a later date if a game has been interrupted by rain.  It is an American expression and the phrase retains the American spelling of 'cheque'.

The phrase is now often used figuratively, to put an invitation on hold and defer it until a dater late.  It is in fact, a polite way of postponing something indefinitely, with only a minor commitment to rearrange.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book A turn-up for the books

Post by CathyCat on Sat 11 Feb 2017 - 12:16

A TURN-UP FOR THE BOOKS

A piece of luck or unexpected good fortune, or a surprising turn of events.  This phrase comes from the world of betting on the horses.

The 'book' is the record of bets laid on a race and is naturally kept by a 'book'maker, commonly known as a bookie.  When the horses do not run to form and the favourite does not win, it's a good day for the bookie and he can line his pockets; for him it's a 'turn-up[wards] for the books'.

giggle
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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book To turn the tables

Post by CathyCat on Sun 12 Feb 2017 - 21:57

TO TURN THE TABLES

To reverse a situation and put one's opponent in the predicament that one has been suffering.  The saying was recorded in the early seventeenth century and was applied to the game of backgammon, the table or board on which it was played being known as 'the tables'.

The phrase may come from the old rumoured custom of reversing the table, or board, in games of chess or draughts, so that the opponents' relative positions are altogether changed - bt even then it had a figurative meaning too.

In a sermon published in 1632, an English deacon called Robert Sanderson (1587-1663), who later became the Bishop of Lincoln, said:

Whosoever thou are that does another wrong, do but turn the tables: imagine thy neighbour were now playing thy game, and thou his.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Re: The Cat's Pyjamas

Post by CathyCat on Mon 13 Feb 2017 - 14:11

UNDER THE COUNTER

This phrase originated during the Second World War, and describes a - then very common - practice among tradesmen with an eye to the main chance.

From the outbreak of the war, many items, ranging from the basics like eggs, butter, meat and jam to 'luxuries' such as petrol, silk stockings and chocolate, were rationed.  Dishonest tradesmen would keep articles and foodstuffs that were in short supply out of sight or 'under the counter', for sale to favoured customers, usually at inflated prices.

This form of trading was part of the thriving wartime black market, and the term is still used today to describe any illicit trading.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book To walk the plank

Post by CathyCat on Tue 14 Feb 2017 - 17:33

TO WALK THE PLANK

To be put to the supreme test or, worse, to be about to die.

'Walking the plank' is a nautical term for a punishment involving being made to walk blindfold and with bound hands along a plank suspended over the ship's side - one eventually lands up in the drink as shark food, if not drowned first.  It was a pirate custom of disposing of prisoners at sea in the seventeenth century.

The practice is probably more familiar in fiction than in fact, however, since pirates would have been unlikely to kill off captives, who could have been sold as slaves or ransomed.


In R.L. Stevenson's (1850-94) novel 'The Master of Ballantrae' (1889), James Durie and Colonel Francis Burke enlist with the pirates who capture their ship, but the brigands make their other prisoners walk the plank.

The infamous Captain Hook, in J.M. Barrie's (1860-1937) 'Peter Pan and Wendy' (1912), meanwhile, threatened to flog Wendy and the Lost Boys with a cat-o'-nine-tails ... and then make them walk the plank.

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CathyCat
Part of the furniture
Part of the furniture

Book The walls have ears

Post by CathyCat on Wed 15 Feb 2017 - 18:48

THE WALLS HAVE EARS

This is a warning to watch what you say, or what secrets you divulge, wherever you are, because someone might be listening.

In the time of Catherine de'Medici (1519-89), wife of Henry II of France, certain rooms in the Louvre Palace, Paris, were said to be constructed to conceal a network of listening tubes called auriculaires, so that what was said in one room could be clearly heard in another.  This was how the suspicious queen discovered state secrets and plots.

The legend of Dionysus's ear may also have been the inspiration for the phrase.  Dionsus was a tyrant of Syracuse (the Sword of Damocles) in 431-367 BC, and his so-called 'ear' was a large ear-shaped underground cave cut into rock.  It was connected to another chamber in such a way that he could overhear the conversations of his prisoners.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book Where there's muck, there's brass

Post by CathyCat on Thu 16 Feb 2017 - 17:25

WHERE THERE'S MUCK, THERE'S BRASS

An encouraging phrase to make one roll up one's sleeves and get to work, otherwise a statement that where there is dirt, there is money.  Feeding the soil, harvesting the crops, mining the coal may make your hands dirty, but they can produce untold riches.

The saying has come to be associated with the grimy mining and manufacturing industries of the north of England, many of which brought their owners substantial wealth following the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century.

'Brass' is in fact a Yorkshire term for 'money', and this version of the phrase originated there - but the proverb had existed with a different wording since at least 1670, when John Ray (1627-1705) recorded 'Muck and money go together' in his collection of English proverbs.

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CathyCat
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Part of the furniture

Book What the Dickens?

Post by CathyCat on Sun 19 Feb 2017 - 17:44

WHAT THE DICKENS?

An exclamation of surprise or disbelief, akin to 'What the devil?'  The phrase is often shortened to 'What the ...?' and in these modern times, 'f**k' is sometimes substituted as the last world.

'Dickens' here is probably a euphemism - one possibly in use since the sixteenth century - for the Devil, otherwise known as Satan or the Prince of Evil, and has nothing to do with the novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70).

In Low German, its equivalent is 'De duks!', which may have become altered in English to 'dickens'.

The phrase was already in use by the time Shakespeare was writing:
"I cannot tell what the dickens his name is.":
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600:3:2)

'To play the dickens' is an old-fashioned expression meaning to be naughty, or act like a devil.

    Current date/time is Tue 22 May 2018 - 14:25