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Cold shoulder – cold shoulder of mutton was the sort of leftovers given to unwelcome house guests

Winging it – actor learning lines in the wings

To heckle – originally the process of removing knots from wool, by combing. In eighteenth century Dundee, workers who carried out the task, hecklers, were political radicals and would interrupt their colleague responsible for reading out the daily news

To hector – from the Trojan warrior who would challenge anyone to a fight

Bite the dust – a direct translation of a quote from The Iliad in which a character talks of the death of Hector

Humble pie – a meal made using the "umbles" – innards – of deer and only eaten by the lowliest servants

Pavilion – from the French for butterfly, papillons, which was the name given to the tents erected at medieval tournaments and jousts, because they resembled the insect's wings

Film buff – from buffalo, the leather from which was worn by 19th century New York firemen who attracted crowds of fans when putting out fires. These aficionados became known as buffs, and the use spread to other experts

Pidgin English – from the pronunciation of "business" by Chinese traders encountered by British merchants in the 19th century

Rolling stone – a seventeenth century gardening implement – similar to a modern roller – used to flatten lawns. The proverb about it gathering no moss, which inspired Sir Mick Jagger and other musicians who used it in their lyrics, gave the phrase a more dynamic image than its prosaic origin suggests

Nazi – an insult in use long before the rise of Adolf Hitler's party. It was a derogatory term for a backwards peasant – being a shortened version of Ignatius, a common name in Bavaria, the area from which the Nazis emerged. Opponents seized on this and shortened the party's title Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, to the dismissive "Nazi"

Let the cat out of the bag – In medieval markets, piglets were sold in bags – a pig in a poke – but a common con was to switch the valuable animal for a worthless cat or dog: buyers were either sold a pup, or, if they discovered the ruse, let the cat out of the bag

The proof of the pudding – from an older meaning of "proof", meaning "test"

Champion – from the Latin for field, campus. The best soldiers in the field were called campiones, hence champions

In the doghouse – from Peter Pan. In JM Barrie's 1911 novel, Mr Darling forces the dog to sleep in the kennel, and as a result the children disappear. As penance, he takes to sleeping there himself.

Through the grapevine – from the "grapevine telegraph", a phrase which emerged during the US Civil War, for an unofficial, word of mouth network along which news was passed, either because Confederate soldiers passed it on while drinking wine after dinner, or because slaves discussed it while picking grapes from vines.

Hoax – from hocus-pocus, which was used by Protestants to ridicule the rite of consecration carried out in the course of Catholic mass, which includes the phrase "Hoc est corpus meum" ("This is my body")

Average – from an old French term avarie, meaning "damage done to a ship". Vessels were often co-owned and when repairs were carried out, owners were expected to pay an equal share – the average.

Castor oil – originally the name of a liquid used as a laxative which was extracted from the glands of a beaver – or Castor, in Latin. It was not until the mid-eighteenth century that it was discovered that the same effect could be got from the oil produced by the seeds of Ricinus communis, which became known as the castor oil plant.

Bizarre – from the Basque word for beard, bizar, because when bearded Spanish soldiers arrived in remote Pyrenean villages, locals thought them odd.

Serendipity – word coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, son of the first prime minister, after reading a book about the island of Serendip – now known as Sri Lanka

Sardonic – referred to those from Sardinia who, in ancient times, were characterised as unfriendly. The Mediterranean island also gave its name to sardines, which were found in its waters

Dog days – the name for the hottest, sultriest part of the summer which coincides with a period, during July, when Sirius – the dog star – cannot be seen as it rises and sets at the same time as the sun.

Pass the buck – from the horn of a deer (buck), which was commonly used as a knife handle. The phrase emerged in nineteenth century America, from when poker players would signify the dealer for each game by stabbing a knife into the table in front of him

Shell out – from the awkward process of getting a nut out of its shell. Artillery shells are so described because early grenades looked like nuts in their shells.

In a nutshell – Pliny, the Roman writer, claimed there was a copy of The Iliad so small it could fit inside a walnut shell

Grocer – one who buys in gross

Kiosk – Turkish word for palace, which gradually becomes less grand as its use as it moves westward across Europe. In Italy it refers to a pagoda-like garden structure

Bigot – old English for "by god", to describe someone who asserts their own saintliness, while being a hypocrite

Upshot – the decisive, final shot in an archery contest which decided who had won

Soon – was the Anglo-Saxon word for "now" – far more immediate than its current use

1 year ago by Appaloosa with 1 comments

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