hell bent for leather

Moving recklessly fast, with determination This phrase dates from the 1800s and refers to riding horseback. Leather alludes to a horse’s saddle and the leather crop used to encourage the horse. It’s a colloquial expression originating in America, but may have sprung from the earlier British army jargon ‘hell for leather,’ first recorded in 1889. The unusual thing about “hell…

ring around a rosie

This is a nursery rhyme, folksong, and playground singing game. It first appeared in print in Kate Greenaway’s 1881 edition of Mother Goose, but apparently a version was already being sung in the 1790s and similar rhymes are known from across Europe. In 1892, folklorist Alice Gomme could give twelve versions. Urban legend says the song originally described the Great…

carbon copy

In the past, a carbon copy was the under-copy of a document created when carbon paper was placed between the original and the under-copy during the typing or writing of a document. Today, the abbreviations cc (carbon copy) or bcc (blind carbon copy) used in email refer to sending copies of an electronic message to recipients in addition to the…

hung out to dry

This phrase has several related meanings. A person has been defeated or punished, or abandoned to danger, or refused help and support, or been gotten into trouble in a way that makes them take the blame for a bad situation. This latter meaning can also be phrased as “carrying the can” or “holding the bag” or playing the role of…

champing at the bit

To show impatience or burst with energy to get going.  This phrase refers to the tendency of some horses, when impatient or nervous, and especially if being held back by their riders, to chew on the bit, often salivating excessively. This behavior may be accompanied by head-tossing or pawing at the ground. Because such behavior was most often seen in…

begging the question

I always wondered what this phrase means exactly, and now I know. And still don’t like it. It comes down to us through Aristotle and, originally, meant something close to a type of circular reasoning. It was used in formal debate in which the defending party asserted a thesis that the attacking party attempted to refute by asking yes-or-no questions…

charley horse

Charley horse is a North American name for a muscle spasm. Charley horses can occur in virtually any muscle, but are most common in the legs. These spasms are marked by extremely uncomfortable muscle contractions, which can last from several seconds to a whole day.  It is uncertain how the term ‘charley horse’ arose, but the main theories relate to…