Toff – ‘a rich or upper class person’.
University dress includes an academic cap, or mortarboard, with a black tassel. At Oxford and Cambridge from around the 1600s the titled young undergraduates began to wear gold tassels, known as tufts, as a mark of their superior status.
As often happens with language, the word’s usage [more…]
Hula hoops, beehive hairdos, pet rocks, lava lamps and the Brady Bunch all had their day in the spotlight but were they all just passing fancies?
This relatively recent expression comes from American advertising posters of the 1930s. It became popular with ice cream companies who saw a flavour-of-the-month as a great marketing idea.
Often the [more…]
If you send someone to Coventry, you ignore them or ostracise them from your group. It is form of a playground bullying and also used to punish strike-breakers.
During the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, Cromwell sent Royalist soldiers to be imprisoned in this cathedral city in Warwickshire, England. They were shunned by [more…]
Clues we might use for this word include ‘Night-time outings restriction’ or ‘After-hours travel ban’, but a curfew started as a law aimed at preventing villages burning down.
The word’s origin is in the Old French couvre-feu meaning ‘cover-fire’. In medieval times fires were precious for lighting, heating and cooking. Crude wooden houses with thatched [more…]
With words ending in either ‘er’ or ‘or’, is there any rule which determines which is the correct usage?
Or is it merely happenchance like so much of our language?
Akimbo is a stance with hands on hips and elbows turned out, usually showing impatience or defiance.
Akimbo is an old word that is only heard in this phrase, or very occasionally and more recently, as ‘legs akimbo’. Another such example is ‘aback’, which only occurs in ‘taken aback’.
In Middle English akimbo appeared as kenebowe [more…]
Argy-bargy is British slang with the meaning ‘noisy quarrelling’.
The word appears to come from an earlier form, ‘argle-bargle’, which originated in Scotland. The first part of the doublet is a modification of the word ‘argue’ and the second part is nonsense rhyming. Oxford lists the plural as argy-bargies.
This type of playful language is known [more…]
If someone calls you a pompous old fuddy-duddy you will no doubt take offense.
This term meaning stuffy and old-fashioned might well sound like a stuffy old-fashioned expression, but it has only been around for a short time really – well around 100 years, which is recent when you think that so much of our [more…]