Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 2017


(Click here to read the article)
Use of southpaw to mean the left hand goes back all the way to 1813, read about its origins here.

Cut Corners

The origin of this saying is based on driving - either horse drawn carriage or motor cars. Read about it here.

What it means in broader terms is using shortcuts or cheap material/labor to do/make something.

Blind spot

I couldn't find an origin for this phrase, although there is a medical definition for it.  The other definitions for this phrase fit with its use - someone who chooses not to see something, who has a tendency to ignore something especially because it is difficult or unpleasant.

At the drop of a hat

Today the phrase means that something is going to happen without delay. 

Son of a gun

The phrase originated as 'son of a military man' (that is, a gun). The most commonly repeated version in this strand is that the British Navy used to allow women to live on naval ships. Any child born on board who had uncertain paternity would be listed in the ship's log as 'son of a gun'. Read more about this phrase and find out if the Navy allowed women on board here.

Today the phrase means the boy is naughty.

Dry Run

A dry run is a rehearsal. The term appears to come from American firefighting jargon, where dry denoted a practice where the hoses were not turned on.  Here is this detailed description of a dry run from the Frederick, Maryland News of 28 May 1901:
Not less than fifteen or more than seventeen men to each company. Dry run, standing start, each team to be allowed one trial; cart to carry 250 feet of hose, in 50-foot lengths; distance, 200 yards to hydrant, attach and lay one line of hose 150 feet from hydrant, break coupling and put on pipe,...ready for water. (source)

The phrase today applies to anything that needs to be rehearsed.

Curiosity killed the cat

This popular phrase started out differently. It first was "care killed the cat." Over time it evolved, click here to read about it's evolution.

When the phrase is used the meaning is that being inquisitive is bad, dangerous, unacceptable.

Bite your tongue

The phrase first appeared in Shakespeare's 1593, Henry VI Part I, "So Orke must sit and fret and bit his tongue." (source)

The meaning of the phrase is to keep quiet, stop oneself from saying something rude or regretful, etc.

To a "t"

The expression 'to a T', is often extended to form other phrases: 'down to a T', 'suits to a T', 'fits to a T', 'generous to a T' etc. Read about the various forms of this phrase and its meaning here.

Dropping like flies

There's no specific origin for this phrase. Read about the ideas behind it here.

What it means when uttered is that a large number of people are falling sick and/or dead.

Cup of Joe

Blow ones own trumpet

"The term in its present form is 19th century. Anthony Trollope, in his work Australia and new Zealand, 1873 observed:

'In the colonies... when a gentleman sounds his own trumpet he 'blows.'

That is clearly commenting on what must already have been a well-known phrase, although there aren't known printed citations to support that from before 1873." Read more about it here.

When people use the phrase they are saying the person is being boastful and self-promoting.

Something smells fishy

This one is pretty straightforward. Old fish (not good to eat) smells fishy with bad odor caused by a chemical named trimethylamine which is released when fish begins to break down. (source)

What it means in the figurative is that something seems suspicious or shady.

Drop in the bucket/ocean

The origin of this phrase is found in the book of Isaiah and precedes the phrase "a drop in the ocean." (source)

It means what it did in Isaiah, a drop is a very small proportion of the whole.

Cry wolf

The origin of this phrase is believed to be from Aesop, a Greek fabulist who is said to have lived from 620 to 560 BCE. He wrote a number of different fables known collectively as Aesop's Fables. (source)
Just like in the fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf by Aesop, the meaning of the phrase means someone who lies but when they choose to tell the truth nobody will believe them due to their previous lies. 

Bite off more than you can chew

I found two different sources about the origin of this phrase. One source said it originated with tobacco, the other source says it was due to taking a bite that was entirely too big for one's mouth. Regardless of the origin of the phrase being due to food or tobacco the meaning today is that someone has agreed to do something more than they can handle.

Skid Row

This American expression came into being in the Great Depression. Residence on Skid Row evokes imagery of someone who was slipping down in society - 'on the skids'. But the term wasn't just figurative, read all about it here.

These days the term skid row means the same thing - A squalid district inhabited by the impoverished and destitute. OR the band... *grin*

Driving me up the wall

This phrase refers to someone trying to escape something something by climbing up a wall. It is not known when it was first used. Seriously, no amount of Googling yielded any results.

The phrase today means to be annoyed, irritated, be driven to irrationality, etc.

Here are a couple of examples of things that drive ME up the wall...