Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Walker

    MEANING   Walker, more fully Hookey (also Hooky) Walker, is an exclamation expressing incredulity. It was first recorded in Lexicon Balatronicum¹. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811): Hookee Walker. An expression signifying that the story is not true, or that the thing will not occur. (¹ balatronicum: from […]

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between you and me and the gatepost

    MEANING   in strict confidence     ORIGIN   The noun post has long been metaphorical for anything deaf, lifeless or ignorant. For instance, the following was published in The World of Thursday 8th November 1753: The business of this letter is only to vindicate from reproach a poor inanimate being, vulgarly called […]

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cloak-and-dagger

cloak-and-dagger

    According to folk etymology, the adjective cloak-and-dagger has its origin in fencing: the cloak, wrapped around one arm, was used as a defensive weapon. The illustration and quotation are from Old Sword-Play (1892) by Alfred Hutton: Rapier and cloak In this exercise the cloak takes the place, as a defensive weapon, of the […]

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nincompoop

nincompoop

  P. G. Wodehouse in 1904     Oh, Bertie, if ever I called you a brainless poop who ought to be given a scholarship at some good lunatic asylum, I take back the words. P. G. Wodehouse - Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954)     MEANING   A nincompoop is a stupid or foolish person. This noun […]

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in someone’s good books – blacklist

in someone’s good books – blacklist

  The Black Book of the Exchequer photograph: The National Archives/History of government         The earliest black books were record books or ledgers usually relating to finance or administration, and the adjective seems to have had no other significance than to indicate the colour of the binding. For example, in a letter […]

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red tape

red tape

  bundle of US pension documents from 1906 bound in red tape photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Jarek Tuszynski       MEANING   Excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities.     ORIGIN   Woven red tape is used to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers. A Dictionary of Law (eighth edition […]

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shampoo

shampoo

  M. Pickwick addressing the club – original illustration by Robert Seymour (1798-1836) for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, published in 1837     The verb to shampoo is from Hindi cāṃpo!, press!, imperative of cāṃpnā.   It originally meant to subject a person to massage. It first appeared as a noun in […]

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‘IOU’

‘IOU’

  Wilkins Micawber as illustrated in a 1912 edition of David Copperfield     An IOU is a signed document acknowledging a debt. IOU is now understood as representing the pronunciation of I owe you, but it was (perhaps) originally an acronym of I owe unto, followed by the name of the creditor.   In 1893, […]

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the last straw

the last straw

  Thomas Hobbes       The last (or final) straw is a further difficulty or annoyance, typically minor in itself but coming on top of a series of difficulties, that makes a situation unbearable. This is from the phrase the last straw that breaks the (laden) camel’s back, a reference to the carrying of […]

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dunce

dunce

  A female student in a dunce’s cap and a man on the steps of the Tome Scientific Building around 1890 Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania Photographer: Charles Francis Himes       A dunce is a person who is slow at learning; a stupid person.   Dating back to the early 16th century, the word […]

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