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

Tag: idioms

thunder

Why do we talk about stealing someone’s thunder?

This idiom, defined as using the ideas devised by another person for your own advantage, has a gratifyingly literal story behind it. It is quite rare for etymologists to pinpoint the very first use of a word or phrase. In this case, however, the eighteenth-century actor and playwright Colley Cibber, in his Lives of the […]

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The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?

The language of Downton Abbey

As some of us still dry our tears and reel from the shocking cliffhanger ending to the second series of Downton Abbey, others have been doing a double take at the supposed anachronisms of language being uttered by a number of the characters. A few seemingly modern phrases that have been singled out in the […]

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Baseball: America’s national language?

Baseball: America’s national language?

Baseball is one the oldest professional sports played in North America today. The first recorded baseball game took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1845; the first televised game between professional teams pitted the Cincinnati Reds against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939; and this year marks the 107th Major League Baseball (MLB) Championship, more commonly […]

Mooselookmeguntic and Sopchoppy: America’s lakes and rivers

Early Great Lakes map

If you love words, chances are you have a favorite dictionary and probably a well-used thesaurus. Your bookshelves may hold some specialized resources as well – books about usage, idioms, puzzle solving, vocabulary building, rhyming, and so forth. If you have a particular fondness for words with an unusual flavor, you’ve probably browsed through books […]

Let’s just “call a cat a cat”

Cat

Just a few weeks ago Christine Lindberg explored phrases and idioms that revealed the somewhat surprising way in which the English language describes man’s best friend. But what about that equally popular household pet – the beloved, fluffy, crazy cat? (Those three adjectives are among some of the most popular in the English language to […]

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Let’s take a butcher’s at rhyming slang

Pork pie

Smile goggle-eyed at them and blow raspberries at them. Jo was chatting to me on the dog We would urge people to use their loaf when parking and make sure they don’t leave anything of value on display. Rhyming slang, although almost 200 years old, is alive and kicking today: all the above examples are […]

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I admit it . . . I’m dog-given

Dog

I love dogs. I think I was just born that way. Given that I’m part of a vast community of canophilists, it’s never made sense to me that dogs often feature in an unfavorable way in English. Every group in the animal kingdom is represented in at least a few phrases, idioms, allusions, and metaphors, […]

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A penny for your thoughts …

Penny

According to some, today is ‘Lucky Penny Day’. The OED describes a ‘lucky penny’ as usually one that is bent or perforated, or sometimes an old or foreign coin. In the early nineteenth century, a ‘luck-penny’ was defined as ‘the cash which the seller gives back to the buyer after the latter has paid him; […]

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