sniglet

“Sniglet” is another word for “neologism,” which describes a relatively recent word or phrase that has become commonly used. The term “sniglet” was created by comedian Rich Hall on the 1980s HBO comedy series Not Necessarily the News. Each monthly episode had a segment on sniglets, which Hall described as “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should.”…

gravy train

If you’re riding the “gravy train,” you’re enjoying ease, success, or profit, particularly if it’s undeserved and somebody else is paying for it. Gravy is a delicious, rich, fattening food, and the word is frequently used to describe luxuries or large amounts of money. It can also mean obtaining a windfall, such as an inheritance or a lottery prize. Related…

cat got your tongue?

“Cat got your tongue?” is a question addressed to someone who is inexplicably silent. The phrase was in common use until the mid-1900s, and I certainly remember hearing it as a child. But perhaps I heard it because I was a child, since it was often asked of children who were being suspiciously quiet. Both questions and reprimands for children…

holy cats!

“Holy cats!” is an exclamation of surprise, amazement or bewilderment. Nobody seems to know when or where it originated. It might, or might not, be a minced oath or euphemism for “Holy Christ!” On the other hand, it might, or might not, be related to the Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats on the island of Cyprus, which was…

cute as a button

Why is a button cute? Apparently, because it’s small. “Cute as a button” has been used since the 1800s to mean delightful, charming, and attractive, but always with the connotation of being small. The word “cute” itself is a clipped form of “acute,” meaning sharp or clever. The phrase is used only for small people or animals, such as children…

field day

A “field day” is a day of excitement or the opportunity to do a lot of something one wants to do rather than the usual routine stuff. Although the phrase makes me think of kids released from their school desks to participate in sports and athletic contests, it’s mostly used today by news media criticizing someone. “The press is going…

batten down the hatches

When you “batten down the hatches,” you’re preparing for trouble. In this phrase, ‘hatch’ means the opening in the deck of a ship. More formally called hatchways, these openings were commonplace on sailing ships and were normally either open or covered with a wooden grating to allow for ventilation of the lower decks. When bad weather was forecast, the hatches…