Words And PhrasesA list of commonly used words and phrases and their origins. Please make a selection below:
- "Time is money"
- An even break
- Arms akimbo
- As dead as a doornail
- At one fell swoop
- Back to square one
- Beyond the pale
- Crocodile Tears
- Curry favour
- Dressed to the nines
- Eau de
- Flavour of the month
- Frog in your throat
- From the horse's mouth
- God bless you!
- Hat trick
- Kangaroo court
- Keep your shirt on!
- Kick the bucket
- Lazy Susan
- Let the cat out of the bag
- Mad as a hatter
- Mind your P's and Q's
- My Cup Of Tea
- OK - Okay
- Raining cats and dogs
- Red Herring
- Send to Coventry
- Seventh Heaven
- Show a Leg
- The Lion's Share
- The Real McCoy
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.”
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!
Toff – ‘a rich or upper class person’.
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.