Origins

Old Idioms For Odd Times

Q.
What are some forgotten sayings that we might consider reviving?

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A.

We scanned the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms (because, you know, time …) to find old-fashioned sayings that could well be revived for life as we currently know it. In our words …

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Cut the cackle
Stop babbling on about nothing and get to the point.

Drop a clanger
Embarrass yourself by making an idiotic mistake.

Enough to make a cat laugh
Absurd, ironic.

Fetch
Oops. Sorry. Not going to happen.

A ghost at the feast
A person or event that casts a gloom over an otherwise happy occasion.

Heart of oak
A person of exceptional courage.

Jam tomorrow
Something wonderful that is promised but rarely comes to be. Inspired by Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: ‘the rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.’

Near the knuckle
Getting awfully close to offensive behaviour.

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The answer’s a lemon
A thoroughly unsatisfactory answer. Lemons, the Oxford book suggests, were chosen to represent duds as they were the lowest value fruit on slot machines.

All over the lot
Confused, disorganized.

All mouth and no trousers
A person who boasts and makes false promises whilst feeling no compunction to act on their words.

Born in the purple
Born to a privileged family. The ‘purple,’ Oxford explains, could refer to royal families who wore garments adorned with expensive, rare purple dye. The phrase could also refer to Byzantine empresses who birthed their children in Constantinople palace rooms tiled with porphyry, a fancy purple stone.

Read the runes
Trying to predict how a situation will end by piecing through all of the known evidence.

Seven-League boots
Being able to travel really quickly by foot.

Smell of the lamp
Evidence of studiousness and toil, inspired by the oil lamp that hard-working predecessors would burn late into the night.

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Sugar the pill
Make something a little less unpleasant or unsavory.

The Old Pals Act
A person in power who uses their position to help their friends.

Tough as old boots
Hardy, grit personified.

On my uppers
Way short of cash. The phrase comes from having shoes that are so worn though in the soles that only the tops remain.

Mark it with a white stone
To acknowledge a particularly happy or special moment. From ancient times where white stones were used to celebrate markedly positive occasions.

Something nasty in the woodshed
A terribly scandalous secret. From the 1933 novel Cold Comfort Farm, written by Stella Gibbons and featuring Aunt Ada Doom who keeps her family in line by vague references to the something nasty she saw in the woodshed when she was young.

Win the wooden spoon.
Ouch. Last place, to win the booby prize. It’s based on an old tradition at Cambridge University where a wooden spoon was presented to the poor student who got the lowest score in the final Cambridge University Math exam.

 

www.justcurious.ca

Header Photo: Patrick Fore
Image 2: Maria Margaretha van Os.. Still Life with Lemon and Cut Glass.  1823 – 1826
Image 3: Pablo Picasso. Still life with lamp. 1944

 

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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton