Words & Phrases

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


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…]

Red Herring

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…]


A rookie is someone who is new to a game or occupation.

It is perhaps best known in sporting circles and the military.

But what is a rookie? Rookie is thought simply to be a corruption of the word ‘recruit’. A more interesting theory is found in reference to the European bird, the rook. [more…]

Seventh Heaven

When you indulge in your favourite chocolate or relax in a soothing bubble bath do you think you are in seventh heaven? Well where exactly are you?

Seven is widely considered to be a lucky or ideal number. There were seven days of Creation in the Bible, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, seven loaves (to go [more…]


Shampoo comes from the Hindi word chhampo meaning ‘press’. To shampoo someone was to massage them.

The meaning changed over time and as shampooing was part of the Turkish Bath ritual it changed to mean part of the cleansing process.

To shampoo the hair was to cleanse and massage the scalp. Shampoo still has this meaning [more…]

Keep your shirt on!

Have you ever wondered why it is thought that impatience leads to undressing?

This exclamation comes from a time before modern manufacturing technology allowed clothes to be mass produced.
A shirt was a much more expensive item than it is today and so if someone were to get into a fight, it made good economic sense [more…]


The history of the word PAGAN is an interesting example of how the language changes over time to suit the needs of society.

PAGAN comes from the same source as the word ‘peasant’. The Latin word pagus referred to a stick fixed in the ground as a landmark and came to also refer to the [more…]