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The Europeans who settled in the North American colonies began to apply the word to cooking meat rather than drying it, and that such outdoor cooking soon became a social event. You have to wonder who named the street, and why, and what went on there—although you could probably hazard a guess.

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Initially I thought it was another 'one of those books'. But it's fascinating and well-researched. It's an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language, taking in monks and monkeys, film buffs and buffaloes, and explaining precisely what the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening.

See also etymologies. When something is explained in as few words as possible. Many moons ago, important documents were carried around in walnut shells, which would then be bound and kept waterproof. Often the documents would be shortened versions that still covered the important points, but there are also examples of long and celebrated works being written in such small handwriting the document would still fit inside the shell of a walnut.

Used to suggest that lack of knowledge equals lack of concern.


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Though now associated with impoliteness or arrogance, the original context of the phrase was one of limited knowledge and the innocence of youth. Now taken to mean that a secret or spoiler has been revealed, the phrase originated in market stall deceptions played on unsuspecting buyers in medieval days.

Thinking they were purchasing a suckling piglet, the buyer would be distracted by the vendor while an associate substituted the piglet for a cat and bagged it up ready to be carried home,. A phrase ascribed to someone judged to have lost their nerve and their bravery. This phrase originates from the world of bare-knuckle prize-fighting during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Red Herrings And White Elephants The Origins Of The Phrases We Use Every Day -

Sometimes a bottle man would be asked to disappear when a fighter was taking a beating, to give him an excuse to quit the fight. A term used to describe someone with unpredictable behaviour. Popularised by the character from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland , the phrase actually originated hundreds of years before Lewis Carroll wrote his novel.

In the Middle Ages making felt hats involved the use of a highly toxic substance called mercurous nitrate. This acid was known to cause trembling in some people, leading to the assumption they were mad or crazy. These days the phrase is more often used in admiration rather than the contempt it started with. Cannons were loaded by pouring gunpowder into a small ignition hole, which was held in place with a wooden plug. But during battle, when speed was of the essence, the powder would held in place by a gun crew member using his finger.

Great way to lose a finger. Meaning a false or misleading clue, often in a detective story. The origin of the phrase lies not in the sea, but on the fox hunts of the s. But first, the herring. In the 18th century herring was one of the most widely caught fish in the seas around Britain. Sans-electricity, it would be preserved by salting and smoking, turning the herring a deep brownish red, and giving it a particularly pungent smell.

In protest at the barbaric practice, wiley and cunning fox lovers would drag the strong-smelling fish along the hunt route and away from the foxes on hunt days. So effective was this tactic that the phrase passed into common English usage. A rough estimate based on experience rather than formal calculation, the expression has been in wide use since the late s. There are several possible origins, most infamously a law from the middle ages allowing a man to beat his wife with a cane no thicker than his thumb as documented in the Biographical Dictionary Of The Judges Of England written by Edward Foss in The actual origin is much older.


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  • Romans used the tip of the thumb from the knuckle upward as a unit of measurement, as any thumb would fit roughly 12 times into the next unit of measurement, a foot. The French word for inches is 'pouces', which translates as 'thumb', meaning the rule of thumb remained a standard unit of measurement until metrification. Used to mean someone rescued at the last minute, the phrase originated in Victorian London, and not in the boxing ring, as is often assumed. As the story goes, one night a guard at the Horse Guard Parade was famously accused of being asleep on duty.

    He denied the charge and claimed he had heard Big Ben chime 13 times at midnight, instead of the usual The clock mechanism was checked and a cog was discovered out of line, meaning Big Ben would indeed chime 13 times instead of On that evidence, the guard was freed — literally saved by the bell. Means to escape punishment or avoid the consequences. All households were required to pay according to their means but the peasants were exempt.

    In England the scot tax lasted in some places for hundreds of years, finally petering out during the Westminster electoral reforms in