Words & Phrases

A list of commonly used words and phrases and their origins…

Where do mermaids come from?


Having three little granddaughters, I’m familiar with the favourite topics that little girls are into these days – rainbows, unicorns and mermaids. In fact it’s hard to buy a T-shirt for a toddler that doesn’t have one of these three depicted on the front – or dinosaurs, superheroes and trucks for boys (I have [more…]

St Patrick

The most famous Irishman was actually the son of a Roman official born and bred in South Wales. The legend goes that he was captured by Picts and sold as a slave in Ireland. He escaped to Gaul, where he became a priest and is credited with bringing Christianity to western Europe.

Many countries [more…]

My Cup Of Tea

This means something one finds pleasing though it’s more often heard in the negative – but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Tea is, or most certainly was, the national beverage of Britain and it gave rise to lots of idiomatic phrases such as ‘storm in a teacup’ and ‘not for all the tea in [more…]

The Lion’s Share

To take the lion’s share is to take the larger part or even the majority of what is to be apportioned out.

There are many tales from ancient times that tell of a group of animals going hunting and the lion using his strength and position as king to claim all the spoils.

The story is [more…]

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile tears are insincere displays of emotion such as feigning sympathy at your opponents’ team losing a match.

In ancient times it was reported and believed that crocodiles put on sad looks and sighed sorrowfully to lure their prey. Moments later they would devour the naïve innocent party and weep (with delight?) while munching on [more…]

Eau de

Eau de water!

Eau de is French for ‘water of’. I’m sure you have heard of, or even sprayed, eau de toilette or eau de parfum. In English the idea of ‘toilet water’ sends school children into sniggers, but toilette is the process of washing oneself, dressing and taking care of one’s appearance, so splashing [more…]


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…]

Flavour of the month

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…]

Send to Coventry

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.

Why Coventry?

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…]