Words & Phrases

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

Quackery

If a physician is described as a quack, he is to be avoided, but how did the term come about?

The word has nothing to do with ducks, but comes from the Dutch quacksalver, from quacken meaning prattle and salf meaning a healing ointment. 

A quacksalver then was someone who prattled on about the efficacy of [more…]

Ampersand

You may be interested to know where the ‘&’ symbol on our keyboards came from and why it is called the ampersand.

Well, in medieval times the symbol & derived from the Latin et, meaning ‘and’.

The & appeared on every child’s hornbook as part of the alphabet; the 27th symbol after Z. It was [more…]

Mad as a hatter

Most people remember fondly the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland, but the phrase mad as a hatter was around before Lewis Carroll created his crazy character.

Felt hats were very popular in Europe and North America from the 1500s to the 1800s, particularly top hats, the best of which were made from beaver fur.

In [more…]

Grog

Old Grogram was the nickname of British Admiral Edward Vernon.

He acquired this name because of the grogram coat he always wore.

In 1740 Admiral Vernon started serving a mix of rum and water to sailors in the Royal Navy instead of the neat rum handed out previously.

This became known as grog.

This grog ration was [more…]

Hat trick

Have you ever achieved the same thing three times only to be told you have completed a hat trick, when what you were doing had nothing to do with hats?

A hat trick comes from the game of cricket and dates back to the late 1800s.

Hat trick described the feat of a bowler to [more…]

Kick the bucket

To kick the bucket is one of the many euphemisms meaning to die. Its origins are fairly gruesome!

A likely source of this phrase comes from pig farming. One method of slaughtering a pig used to involve hanging it upside down from a beam in the barn designed for the purpose and called a “bucket.” [more…]

Electricity

Where would we be without electricity? If you ever have a blackout it is a reminder of how reliant we are on plugging things in!

Early scholars like Thales of Miletus (600 BC) and Pliny (AD 70) made the observation that amber, when rubbed, had the power to attract light objects like bits of straw [more…]

Raining cats and dogs

This describes a heavy cloudburst and there are different theories as to how the expression came to be, the first of which is from Norse mythology.

The cat was supposed to have great influence on the weather and witches that rode on storms were said to assume the form of cats. The dog and wolf, [more…]

The Real McCoy

Is it the Real McCoy? – Is it the genuine article?

This phrase stems from a story about the world class welterweight boxing champion Charles ‘Kid’ McCoy. Supposedly he was at some time challenged to prove that he was who he said he was and so he knocked out the inquirer! When the man came [more…]