My Cup Of Tea
This means something one finds pleasing though it’s more often heard in the negative – but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Tea is, or most certainly was, the national beverage of Britain and it gave rise to lots of idiomatic phrases such as ‘storm in a teacup’ and ‘not for all the tea in China’.
Something described as one’s cup of tea was something held in high regard, just as the soothing brew was savoured.
Nancy Mitford wrote in her novel Christmas Pudding in 1932, “I’m not at all sure I wouldn’t rather marry Aunt Loudie. She’s even more my cup of tea in many ways.”
While tea remains popular in the UK the idiom has moved to the dark side. An example is this Guy Pearce quote explaining why he didn’t want to play a superhero, “Comic-strip stuff isn’t really my cup of tea; really.”
The Lion’s Share
To take the lion’s share is to take the larger part or even the majority of what is to be apportioned out.
There are many tales from ancient times that tell of a group of animals going hunting and the lion using his strength and position as king to claim all the spoils.
The story is included in Aesop’s Fables and here is one version.
The Lion went once a-hunting along with the Fox, the Jackal, and the Wolf. They hunted and they hunted till at last they surprised a Stag, and soon took its life. Then came the question how the spoil should be divided. “Quarter me this Stag,” roared the Lion; so the other animals skinned it and cut it into four parts. Then the Lion took his stand in front of the carcass and pronounced judgment: “The first quarter is for me in my capacity as King of Beasts; the second is mine as arbiter; another share comes to me for my part in the chase; and as for the fourth quarter, well, as for that, I should like to see which of you will dare to lay a paw upon it.”
“Humph,” grumbled the Fox as he walked away with his tail between his legs; but he spoke in a low growl. “You may share the labours of the great, but you will not share the spoil.”
This expression has stood the test of time and centuries later is well understood and common in the media.
From The Times in London: “Les Misérables …… accounted for the lion’s share of cinema attendances.”
From India’s Daily Bhaskar: “Chief minister’s hometown Jodhpur got lion’s share in the state Budget announced by him on Wednesday.”
From the LA Times: “At Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which control the lion’s share of the government-backed loans …”
Crocodile tears are insincere displays of emotion such as feigning sympathy at your opponents’ team losing a match.
In ancient times it was reported and believed that crocodiles put on sad looks and sighed sorrowfully to lure their prey. Moments later they would devour the naïve innocent party and weep (with delight?) while munching on their victim.
The tale was repeated by French and English explorers centuries later and the non-travelling public not surprisingly believed the stories.
It is true that crocodiles shed tears, but there is no evidence that they feel emotion. By the 16th century the story had become idiomatic.
In 1563 Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of York, wrote, “I begin to fear, lest his humility … be a counterfeit humility, and his tears crocodile tears.”
Eau de water!
Eau de is French for ‘water of’. I’m sure you have heard of, or even sprayed, eau de toilette or eau de parfum. In English the idea of ‘toilet water’ sends school children into sniggers, but toilette is the process of washing oneself, dressing and taking care of one’s appearance, so splashing on some eau de toilette is part of this process of daily ablutions.
Eau de parfum, containing about 15% aromatics, is more concentrated than eau de toilette typically with 10% aromatics. Parfum (with no eau) has 20%.
Eau de Cologne, named after the German city, is an even more diluted citrus scent. Cologne has come to mean any light scent and is particularly used in relation to men’s fragrances.
Eau de vie means ‘water of life’ as joie de vie means ‘joy of life’. Eau de vie is a colourless brandy with a light fruit flavour e.g. eau de vie pomme is apple flavoured.
Quite a few spirits take their name from life-giving water. Whisky comes from the Gaelic usquebaugh and vodka comes from the Slavic voda. Both words mean ‘water’.
The colour name eau de nil means literally ‘water of the Nile’. It is a pale yellowish-green colour reminiscent of the River Nile to those who named it. It sounds like something you might find on a sheet of paint colours along with Flounder, Asparagus and Serenity!
University dress includes an academic cap, or mortarboard, with a black tassel. At Oxford and Cambridge from around the 1600s the titled young undergraduates began to wear gold tassels, known as tufts, as a mark of their superior status.
As often happens with language, the word’s usage was extended to the young men themselves. It gradually shifted to tofts and by the mid-1800s was toffs. It became a slang word used by the working class for the upper class, or for someone who dressed smartly, as an aristocrat might.
The nowadays rarely-heard tuft hunter, for a sycophant or toady, has its origins here too. A tuft hunter was someone who followed, flattered and fawned before these young noblemen.
Flavour of the monthHula hoops, beehive hairdos, pet rocks, lava lamps and the Brady Bunch all had their day in the spotlight but were they all just passing fancies?
This relatively recent expression comes from American advertising posters of the 1930s. It became popular with ice cream companies who saw a flavour-of-the-month as a great marketing idea.
Often the featured flavour would be offered at a reduced price to encouraged customers to part with their money in the hope of return custom and future loyalty.
At first the expression was used to describe something up-to-date and desirable. It is most often used now in a derogatory way for a passing fad or one-hit wonder.
It is cruelly used to describe a celebrity considered overrated. The phrase suggests that a meteoric rise to fame is most likely to be quickly followed by a meteoric fall.
Send to Coventry
During the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, Cromwell sent Royalist soldiers to be imprisoned in this cathedral city in Warwickshire, England. They were shunned by the locals who didn’t want them there. This is suggested as the origin of the expression.
Another theory is that it was troops who were billeted in the town that were unwelcome and ostracised.
The phrase appears in Enid Blyton’s school stories where sending a girl to Coventry is the ultimate punishment.
Another example is Charles Dodgson, who was ‘sent to Coventry’ by the Liddell family for unknown reasons, thought people speculated that it had something to do with his relationship with young Alice.
The word’s origin is in the Old French couvre-feu meaning ‘cover-fire’. In medieval times fires were precious for lighting, heating and cooking. Crude wooden houses with thatched roofs and fires burning in the hearth meant disaster was never far away. Every evening at around 8 or 9 a bell would sound as a signal that it was time to cover fires and settle in for the night, thus assuring no one went to sleep leaving their fire unguarded.
Curfew quickly came to refer to the signal itself . The benefit of restricting the population to their houses was soon seen to extend beyond avoiding destructive fire, to minimising crime and stopping schemers meeting under cover of darkness.
Curfews are now mostly put in place in times of unrest, though in some places they are imposed in order to deter juvenile delinquency.
Akimbo is a stance with hands on hips and elbows turned out, usually showing impatience or defiance.
Akimbo is an old word that is only heard in this phrase, or very occasionally and more recently, as ‘legs akimbo’. Another such example is ‘aback’, which only occurs in ‘taken aback’.
In Middle English akimbo appeared as kenebowe and is thought to possibly come from Old Norse. Suggested origins are the Icelandic keng-boginn, ‘bent in a horseshoe curve’; the Medieval Latin cambuca, ‘ in a crooked bow’; or the Old French kane, ‘pot’ plus the Middle English boue ‘bow’.
The word has been around since 1400. In The Tale of Beryn, an addition to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it is found as, “The hoost… set his hond in kenebowe”.
In recent times the word has found a new use. In certain computer games to choose ‘guns akimbo’ gives your avatar a gun in each hand.
Argy-bargy is British slang with the meaning ‘noisy quarrelling’.
The word appears to come from an earlier form, ‘argle-bargle’, which originated in Scotland. The first part of the doublet is a modification of the word ‘argue’ and the second part is nonsense rhyming. Oxford lists the plural as argy-bargies.
This type of playful language is known as reduplication and English speakers love to coin them. Other examples include tittle-tattle, hoity-toity, mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus, super-duper etc.
Our love of rhyming jingles seems to be continuing, just think of hip-hop and bling-bling.