that’s all she wrote

The phrase means that’s all there is, it’s finished, it’s over, the end. It originated in America, but the source is unknown. The popular explanation is that it’s the punch line of a tale about an American GI serving overseas in the second World War. The GI is supposed to have received a letter from his sweetheart. He reads it…

phony

“Phony” means fraudulent, intended to deceive or mislead, counterfeit. The word does not come from “funny business,” nor from telephone. The Oxford English Dictionary says that “phony” (British spelling “phoney”) is “probably a variant of fawney,” an old slang term for a finger ring. The OED says “fawney” comes from fáine, Irish for ring. The Irish probably brought the word…

up

The basic definition of “up” is “toward a higher place or position.” But it would be very difficult to define in all the ways it’s used: adverb, preposition, adjective, noun, or verb.      Examples of how we use “up”: —we wake up in the morning (and bed down at night) —we speak up (or talk down)       …

chickens come home to roost

Bad deeds or words return to discomfort their perpetrator or, rather more succinctly: something you’ve done comes back to bite you in the ass.  The idea of bad deeds coming back to haunt their originator was expressed in print as early as 1390, when Geoffrey Chaucer used it in The Parson’s Tale. Originally, the allusion was to a bird returning…

doodlebug

“Doodlebug” is a nickname applied to several things. The bugs which the nickname is usually used for are antlions in their larval form. The antlion larva burrows into loose, dry, bare, sandy soil and constructs a cone-shaped pit by flipping loose soil out of the hole with its head. The antlion begins a pit by walking backward and pressing its…

cute as a bug’s ear

“Cute as a bug’s ear” means very charming and attractive, and possibly works on the principle that the smaller the thing is the cuter it will be. It is usually used to describe a child. It was first seen in print, with this meaning, in 1868. Cute and keen were two of the most overused slang words of the late…

bless your little cotton socks

This phrase is an expression of endearment, fondness, or appreciation for another person. It’s listed in the Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, by Eric Partridge, which says, “A middle-class catch phrase dating from c. 1905. . . a jocular benediction/thanks, as in ‘Oh, bless their little cotton socks—they’ve left everything…

interrobang

An “interrobang” is a non-standard punctuation mark indicating a question expressed in an exclamatory manner. The punctuation mark consists of an exclamation point and a question mark superimposed on top of one another. A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical…

skookum

“Skookum” means strong, brave, impressive, fierce, big, and reliable, and can apply to either humans or other animals. Skookum is a Chinook Jargon word that has historical use in the Pacific Northwest. For example, “skookum house” means jail or prison. “Skookumchuck” means turbulent water or rapids in a stream or river, “chuck” being Chinook Jargon for water, stream or lake.…

arithmetic

“Arithmetic” (Greek arithmos), the most elementary branch of mathematics, is the study of numbers and the traditional operations on them—addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation and extraction of roots. Unfortunately for those of us with a short attention span, the language used to describe arithmetic operations is far more complicated than the operations themselves. I’ve always been curious about this word…