W C Fields famous utterance, ‘Never give a sucker an even break’ has its origins at the dog race track.
Dog owners, betting on the speed of their hounds when chasing the hare, had to make sure they started at exactly the same time, that they had an even break.
Even break came to refer to [more…]
If someone’s behaviour is described as being beyond the pale, it is deemed unacceptable – they have overstepped the mark of good manners or decency.
A pale was a wooden stake (think of palings) and the word extended its meaning to ‘an enclosed area’ or ‘an area designated to a particular authority’, such as a [more…]
Bedlam is a state of chaos or uproar but its original meaning was an insane asylum.
Bedlam is derived from the word Bethlehem as taken from the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem located outside Bishopsgate, in the City of London. The hospital was established in approximately 1330 as an attachment to the priory, established [more…]
Originally, this term was racing slang which basically meant ‘a hot tip’.
After the 1930s however, the saying was used to encompass any kind of evidence given on the best authority.
It alludes to the fact that the most reliable way of determining a horse’s age is by simply inspecting its teeth.
A dealer may try to [more…]
Those of you who can never keep a secret – no names of course – might be interested to know the origin of the expression “Let the cat out of the bag”.
This term comes from medieval times when a market vendor would openly display a sample of his wares and give the customer a [more…]
Legend has it, that the word ‘quiz’ is the epitome of a made-up word.
The story goes that in 1780 a Mr. Daly, the manager of a Dublin theatre, wagered that he could introduce a new word of no meaning into the language in twenty-four hours.
All around the city, he chalked the letters QUIZ up [more…]
Have you ever read a sign saying ‘THIS DOOR IS ALARMED” and wonder at how a door could be so scared?
Alarme! Alarme! was a Medieval cry meaning ‘to arms’ coming to English from Old French and Italian, from the Latin ad illas armas.
The shout was often accompanied by a clanging bell or loud horn [more…]
A red herring, as a metaphor, is anything used as a distraction to draw attention away from the central issue. It can be intentional or accidental.
A herring that has been dried, salted and smoked turns a reddish colour and these cured fish have a particularly strong smell.
One theory for the origin of the [more…]
The word rickshaw conjures up scenes from the British Raj of English government officials and their ladies being taxied about by two-wheeled carriages pulled by wiry runners.However, the vehicle is thought to have its origins in France.
In 18th century France there was a two-wheeled sedan chair called a brouette, which was pulled along by [more…]