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(with) tongue in cheek

  The phrase (with) tongue in cheek means in an ironic, or insincere, way. The Scottish author Tobias Smollett (1721-71) used to thrust one’s tongue in one’s cheek to denote a sign of contempt in his picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748); the hero has just captured and handed over a highwayman and returns to the coach in which he is travelling: When I had […]

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Kindertransport

Kindertransport

  Let them smile and play again Save 1,000 Refugee Children on ‘MOTHERS’ DAY’ MAY 20TH IN SHEFFIELD ‘Mothers’ Day’ is the day appointed for a great and special effort in support of the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees—to rescue another 500 Christian and 500 Jewish children. Please do your very best to make your local […]

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heart of oak

heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is […]

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to lark about

to lark about

  skylark – photograph: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds     The phrasal verb lark about (or around) means to enjoy oneself by behaving in a playful and mischievous way. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary – 1st edition, 1902) indicates the following about the verb lark: The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it […]

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small beer

small beer

        MEANING   person(s) or matter(s) of little or no importance     ORIGIN   Since the early 14th century, the adjective small has been used to mean of low alcoholic strength. For example, The Forme of Cury¹, a roll of English cookery, compiled around 1390 by the master cooks of Richard […]

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‘loot’

‘loot’

  Ludewig appraises tray which newlyweds want to swap for cooker from Life, 13th September 1954       MEANINGS   – noun: goods stolen during pillaging, as in wartime, during riots, etc. – goods, money, etc., obtained illegally – verb: to pillage (a city, settlement, etc.) during war or riots – to steal (money or […]

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pigs might fly

pigs might fly

  Alice (with flamingo) chats with the Duchess illustration by John Tenniel (1820-1914)     “Thinking again?” the Duchess asked, with another dig of her sharp little chin. “I’ve a right to think,” said Alice sharply, for she was beginning to feel a little worried. “Just about as much right,” said the Duchess, “as pigs […]

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gas and gaiters

gas and gaiters

  Mysterious appearance of the gentleman in the small-clothes illustration by “PHIZ” for the first edition of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby     “It’s all right, Bertie.” “She loves you still?” “Yes.” “Good.” “She wept on my chest.” “Fine.” “And said she was sorry she had been cross. I said ‘There, there!’ […]

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all Sir Garnet

all Sir Garnet

  Sir Garnet Wolseley from The Illustrated Police News (London) of Saturday 21st June 1879       MEANING   highly satisfactory; all right     ORIGIN   This phrase is from the name of Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913), field-marshal and commander-in-chief of the British army, who conducted several successful military expeditions in the Sudan […]

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long (or strong) arm

    MEANING   far-reaching power or influence     ORIGIN   The earlier expression long hands was originally after classical Latin an nescis longas regibus esse manus?, used by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – circa 17 AD) in the epistolary poems Epistulæ Heroidum, (Letters of Heroines). While her husband, King Menelaus, is away, Helen […]

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