a feather in your cap

A “feather in your cap” is a symbol of honor and achievement and has been so regarded in a number of cultures. Using the phrase figuratively has been common in the UK since the 1700s. Richard Hansard, English writer and traveler, recorded it in his Description of Hungary, 1599: “It hath been an antient custom among them [Hungarians] that none…

hit the nail on the head

To hit the nail on the head means to come up with the perfect solution to a problem, or to express a thought with precision.  If you’re a carpenter, you know that missing the nail and striking the wood will damage the wood. The perfect solution, of course, is to hit the nail squarely and drive it home. The origin…

lose your marbles

When you lose your marbles, you’ve lost your mind, or gone insane, or part of your brain is missing. In any case, your mind isn’t functioning as it should. This American phrase arose in the late 1800s, probably from the game of marbles, which was common at the time. To play was always to run the risk of losing all…

screwed, blued, and tattooed

Thoroughly cheated and victimized. Or else enjoying the perfect shore leave. “Stewed” is sometimes added for further effect. (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Partridge)  Adding “and sold down the river” also means “very drunk.” Since the phrase could mean being completely put through some process, it may originally have referred to the process of becoming a full-fledged sailor.…

hat trick

A hat trick is the achievement of a goal or other positive feat three times in a sport or other game, such as car racing, marbles, poker, and scrabble. To score a hat trick of hat tricks means to score three goals in each of three consecutive games. The term “hat trick” may have been influenced by or adopted from…

can’t make heads nor tails of

If you can’t “make heads or tails” of something, it means you’re confused and can’t figure out what to do. The phrase may have been born in Ancient Rome, in a phrase used by Cicero, (106 to 43 BCE), ne caput nec pedes, which means “neither head nor feet.” In other words, you can’t tell which end is which. Sometimes…

head in the sand

If you have your head in the sand, you’re refusing to confront or acknowledge a problem, or ignoring unwanted news or events in the hope that they will go away. This arises from the myth that ostriches hide their heads in the sand when faced with an attack by predators. The idea was apparently first recorded by the Roman writer, Pliny…