straight laced

Originally this phrase, spelled ‘strait laced’ meant constricted or narrow but, more specifically, wearing a bodice or corsets tightly laced. Today it is spelled ‘straight laced’ and means excessively rigid in behavior, morals, or moral judgement. ‘Strait’ is still used in expressions like ‘strait and narrow,’ ‘dire straits,’ ‘strait-jacket,’ and  ‘straitened circumstances.’ The meaning of both spellings becomes clear when…

marry in haste, repent at leisure

Quite self-explanatory. The phrase says that if you marry someone you don’t know well, you may well regret the marriage later. This proverb has been traced back to the Duties of Marriage, published in England in 1566. Shakespeare, Byron, James Joyce and others coined variants of it.  The saying was also expressed in print in 1693, by William Congreve in…

bigwig

A bigwig is an important person, someone of a high status. The OED says this is because “of the large wigs formerly worn by men of distinction or importance.” The term ‘bigwig’ was first recorded in 1703 in a weekly journal called English Spy. The next time it’s seen in print is G. Selwyn’s 1781 Letters in 15th Rep. Hist.…

gossip

Gossiping is idle chat, or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others; the act is also known as dishing or tattling. The word is from Old English ‘godsibb,’ from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one’s child or the parents of one’s godchild, generally very close friends. In the 16th century, the word was…

chairman

The presiding officer of a meeting or committee, or the administrative officer of a department of instruction (as in a college). And finally, a carrier of a sedan chair.  The origin is, as you might guess, a compound of the words ‘chair’ and ‘man.’ The ‘chair’ is a reference to a seat or position of authority and the ‘man’ is,…

pie in the sky

Meaning:  — Exaggerated, excessively idealized, unrealistic.  — Promise of heaven, as a consolation for suffering on earth.  — Hope for a special reward. “Get rid of your pie-in-the-sky ideas!”  — Something good that is unlikely to happen.  — An empty wish or promise. This American phrase was coined in 1911 by Joe Hill, a Swedish itinerant laborer who migrated to…

grass widow

A woman whose husband is away often or for a prolonged period, usually applied to those parted from their husbands by golf (played on grass) or similar obsessional activities. It has long been used in the USA in the sense of “a woman who is separated, divorced, or lives apart from her husband,” perhaps because her husband is still above…