throw a monkey wrench into

When you “throw a monkey wrench into” something, you’re sabotaging or frustrating a project or plans. For example, you might say, “My boss threw a monkey wrench into my plans for going away for the weekend when he said I’d have to work Saturday.”  There is a theory that the “monkey” in monkey wrench is a misspelling of the inventor’s…

since Hector was a pup

This phrase means, “a very long time ago.”  The expression became popular in the 1920s when many schoolboys studied Greek and named their dogs Hector after the Homeric hero. The phrase is now obsolete, though there are similar ones still in use. For example, in the US military, it’s apparently common to refer to a period in the distant past…

shit happens

“Shit happens” is a common vulgar slang phrase used as a simple observation that life is full of unpredictable and often unpleasant events. It’s an acknowledgment that bad things happen to people seemingly for no particular reason. The phrase was first observed in 1964 but wasn’t used in a print publication until 1983. The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say:…

jump the gun

When you “jump the gun,” you’re starting to do something before the preparations for it are complete, or acting before the permitted or appropriate time. Like eating the cake before it’s been iced, perhaps. However, the phrase originated with sports, not with cake. It derives from track and field races, where it began as “beat the gun.” The gun referred…

sniglet

“Sniglet” is another word for “neologism,” which describes a relatively recent word or phrase that has become commonly used. The term “sniglet” was created by comedian Rich Hall on the 1980s HBO comedy series Not Necessarily the News. Each monthly episode had a segment on sniglets, which Hall described as “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should.”…

gravy train

If you’re riding the “gravy train,” you’re enjoying ease, success, or profit, particularly if it’s undeserved and somebody else is paying for it. Gravy is a delicious, rich, fattening food, and the word is frequently used to describe luxuries or large amounts of money. It can also mean obtaining a windfall, such as an inheritance or a lottery prize. Related…

cat got your tongue?

“Cat got your tongue?” is a question addressed to someone who is inexplicably silent. The phrase was in common use until the mid-1900s, and I certainly remember hearing it as a child. But perhaps I heard it because I was a child, since it was often asked of children who were being suspiciously quiet. Both questions and reprimands for children…