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to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face

to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face

  title page of The deceyte of women, to the instruction and ensample of all men yonge and olde, newly corrected (1557?) Aristotle is being ridden like an ass by the courtesan Phyllis. image: Early Modern Drama Blog         The phrase to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face means to […]

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to return to one’s muttons

to return to one’s muttons

  The court scene - woodcut from the edition of La Farce de Maistre Pathelin by Pierre Levet, circa 1489       MEANING   to return to the matter in hand     ORIGIN   This phrase is from French revenons à nos moutons (let us return to our sheep), which is said to have […]

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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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the slough of despond

the slough of despond

  The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to That which is to come Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream Wherein is Discovered, The Manner of his setting out, His Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey (1679 edition) – image: The British Library       MEANING   a state of extreme […]

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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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Viking

    MEANING   any of the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes who raided by sea most of northern and western Europe from the 8th to the 11th centuries, later often settling, as in parts of Britain     ORIGIN   This noun was introduced in the early 19th century by antiquaries and poets. It is […]

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