larking

This morning we have another bird — larking about! “Larking” means to behave in a playful and mischievous way, or go on a merry, carefree adventure or frolic. It’s innocent or foolish or good-natured mischief; a prank, an escapade. Something extremely easy to accomplish, succeed in, or to obtain. Use of it arose around 1805-1815, and it’s obviously been well-used,…

bird words

After I did “getting your ducks in a row” last Wednesday, a friend suggested a few more bird words. I’ll do two today. The first one is “grousing.” Grousing: To grumble or complain, (beef, bellyache, bitch, crab, gripe, holler, squawk) Also, to hunt a popular game bird known as a grouse. The word arose in the 1530s as “grows” and…

getting your ducks in a row

This idiom means organizing your tasks and schedule so you’re ready for the next step. It became known in the 1980s as a management exhortation to staff, but is now a cliché. The idiom reminds me of a wall decoration that used to be popular: a set of three painted plaster ducks marching in a neat diagonal line up the…

lead on, MacDuff!

Lord Macduff, the Thane of Fife, is a character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (c.1603-1607). Macduff plays a pivotal role in the play: he suspects Macbeth of regicide and eventually kills Macbeth in the final act. He can be seen as the avenging hero who helps save Scotland from Macbeth’s tyranny. But “lead on, Macduff!” is an incorrect quotation. The actual words…

clean as a whistle

Completely, entirely, thoroughly, sharp, definite. “She sliced through the apple, clean as a whistle.”  Leaving no ragged edges or trailing peel, presumably. The phrase may have replaced the 18th-century “clear as a whistle,” which alluded to the pure, clean sound of a whistle, which has few overtones and can be heard in a noisy environment. Human beings are generally good…

how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

This question has been used many times as a dismissal of scholasticism, which used such questions in dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions. In modern times, it has been used as a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no practical value, or questions whose answers hold no intellectual consequence, while more urgent concerns pile…

a stitch in time saves nine

If a task needs doing, do it now, rather than wait until the situation becomes progressively worse and finally out of control. For example, sew up a small hole or tear in a piece of clothing, thus saving the need for more stitching later, when the hole has become that much larger.  This, of course, is a typical English proverb…