through thick and thin

To be able to handle the good times as well as the bad times, reflecting commitment and determination. One unsubstantiated theory says that ‘thick’ represents the good times, and ‘thin’ the bad times. The theory suggests that the phrase may have originated in the fact that when there’s not enough food to go round, you slice meat and bread more…

Happy chocolate and flower day!

It seems an appropriate day to give myself a present of sorts. I’ve been posting about interesting words and phrases twice a week for about five years. I can’t imagine ever running out of material, but I am squeezed for time, due to being a trifle over-ambitious. I have several projects on the go: a sequal to Cats & Crayons,…

throw in the towel

Give up and avoid further punishment when facing certain defeat. The phrase arose from boxing, or from prize-fighting, which preceded it. When a boxer was doing so badly that it was obvious he would lose, one of his support team would toss a towel into the ring to signal that the boxer conceded defeat. ‘Throwing in the towel’ was preceded…

two phrases from the boxing world

Take it on the chin Stand up undaunted to criticism, suffering, or punishment. ‘Take it on the chin’ comes from the sport of boxing, and refers to a boxer receiving a hard blow on the chin and receiving it well. Figuratively, it means to receive the full force of something punishing. Example: “Why do I have to take it on…

Short takes

Hidebound — unwilling to change because of tradition or convention. (1600 CE) Close to the bone — near enough to truth to offend some people Ripsnorter — something or someone very strong or violent (1830-40) A day late and a dollar short — too little too late (1939) Foregone conclusion — inevitable result (Othello, Shakespeare 1604) The milk of human…

tinker’s damn

Something insignificant, not worth even a moment’s consideration. Example: ‘he doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about what happens.’ The OED defines ‘tinker’ as “a craftsman (usually itinerant) who mends pots, kettles, and other metal household utensils.” Back in the 1700s and 1800s, tinkers were pretty much at the bottom of the social scale, along with vagrants and Gypsies, and they…

sucker punch

An unexpected blow that catches a person completely off guard. The term sucker punch dates back to 1947 in the sport of boxing. Boxing great Jack Dempsey wrote, “The right lead (for a right-handed boxer) is called a sucker punch.”  However, in boxing, a sucker punch thrown outside of the rules is illegal. Such a sucker punch is any sneak…