Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Tag: idioms

Everyday expressions and their poetic origins

albatross

Our impression of “poetic” language as distinct from “everyday” language is unsurprising. At first glance, the flourishes of ornate, pre-1900 verse seem incompatible with common speech, either by virtue of their conspicuously high diction or the maudlin matters they seemingly address. One might hesitate, for instance, to liken a romantic interest to a lovely and […]

Cat idioms and expressions

Cat idioms and expressions

[The competition that was in this article has now closed, and the winner has been notified.] When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, it was perhaps with the intention of enhancing international communication, and making the workplace more efficient – useful things of that nature. What he perhaps did not expect is what […]

The oink on the page: pig idioms and expressions

The oink on the page: pig idioms and expressions

27 March is Dick King-Smith’s birthday and, although his name might not immediately be ringing bells in your head, there’s a strong possibility that you’ve come across one of his creations. Of the dozens of children’s books he wrote before his death in 2011, perhaps the most famous is The Sheep-Pig (1983), published in the […]

Horseplay: horses in idioms and proverbs

Horseplay: horses in idioms and proverbs

Horses have been in the news recently and, as with anything topical and a little bit scandalous, would-be comedians have been riffing on horse-related puns and quips to their hearts’ content. The English language is not new to this sort of play with the word ‘horse’. Horseplay, if you will – which is a case […]

Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and Cockney rhyming slang

Under the auspices of white elephants?! The origins of phrases, punctuation marks, and cockney rhyming slang

In the phrase ‘under the auspices of ’, what are auspices? The root of auspices and the more familiar adjective auspicious are closely linked. If something is auspicious it bodes well, giving promise of a favourable outcome. In Roman times, people tried to predict future events by watching the behaviour of birds and animals. An […]

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Yobs over the moon about burying the hatchet: popular idioms explained

Why do we call hooligans yobs? Yob is a good example of ‘back-slang’—a form of slang in which words are spelt backwards as a code so that others (usually parents) are unable to understand them. ‘Yob’ is simply ‘boy’ spelt backwards; the ‘backward’ element seems appropriate in the definition of retrograde behaviour. Why do we […]

In a nutshell, cutting the mustard by the skin of your teeth: popular idioms explained

In a nutshell, cutting the mustard by the skin of your teeth: popular idioms explained

Why do good things ‘cut the mustard’? The word mustard has been used to mean something excellent or superlative for almost a hundred years—the phrase ‘keen as mustard’ draws on the same idea of added piquancy and zest. ‘Hot stuff’, in other words. In America, to say something was ‘the proper mustard’ in the early […]

The language of cooking: from ‘Forme of Cury’ to ‘Pukka Tucker’

The language of cooking: from 'Forme of Cury' to 'Pukka Tukka'

The earliest surviving English-language recipes came from the kitchens of kings and their great nobles. Richard II’s Master Cooks boasted that their Forme of Cury contained only the ‘best and royallest viand of all Christian Kings’, and, what’s more, had been approved by the king’s physicians and philosophers. Healthy eating issues and celebrity endorsements are […]

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