graveyard shift

The “graveyard shift” is a late-night/early-morning work shift. This work shift was so-named not because it has anything to do with graveyards, but because of the lonesome, spooky feeling of working in the dark silence of the midnight hours and early morning hours when most people are home asleep.  The similar phrase “graveyard watch” originated at about the same time,…

dead ringer

“Dead ringer” means an exact duplicate. The two words appear to have nothing in common. So, we must deal with each separately. “Ringer” is slang for a look-alike horse substituted for another in a competition or sporting event, in order to defraud the bookies. This meaning originated in the US horse-racing world at the end of the 1800s. The Manitoba…

upper crust

There are two meanings for “upper crust.” It may be the topmost layer of a loaf of bread, a pastry dish, or other food item with a hardened coating, or the Earth’s surface. But we’re most used to using the phrase to refer to the wealthiest members of society, who also wield the greatest political power. One tall tale suggested…

bring home the bacon

“Bring home the bacon” means to earn money, to make a living, particularly for one’s family, to be financially successful. “Bacon” has been a slang term for a person’s body, and by extension, for a person’s livelihood or income, since the 1600s. And “bacon,” of course, comes from the body of a pig. The phrase was coined in the USA…

dirt poor

If you’re dirt poor, you’re suffering extreme poverty, lacking most of the necessities of life. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “dirt poor” is an American expression first documented in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, and refers to the Dust Bowl. As a side note, “dirt” as a synonym for “soil” is an American invention. The following phrases were…

Two Shakes of a Lamb’s Tail

Yes, I’ve published a new book! Non-fiction this time. Here are the cover and the back page blurb:   This book explores the source and use of 355 common phrases and words in our wicked, wonderful, wacky English language.  While it’s raining cats and dogs, we’ll horse around with pie in the sky and, when we’re at the zoo, a…

don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

This proverb warns you against eliminating something good when trying to get rid of something bad. For example, before you send that old desk to the junkyard, check the drawers to see if there’s anything of value still in them.  The proverb has been in use in English since the late 1800s, but it originated in the 1500s as a…