salmagundi

“Salmagundi” is a salad plate of chopped meats, anchovies, eggs, and vegetables arranged in rows for contrast and dressed with a salad dressing. The word is now used mainly to mean a mixture or miscellany but in England it first referred specifically to a dish of chopped meat, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts, anchovies, and eggs, garnished with onions, lemon juice,…

shake a leg

“Shake a leg” means to get started, rouse yourself, hurry up, get out of bed. It was explicitly defined that way in the New York Magazine in 1904, and is usually used as a command or request.   “Shake a leg” also means to dance. That meaning may have evolved from “shake a heel,” or “shake a foot,” which were…

wishbone

The “wishbone” is a bird’s furcula (“little fork” in Latin), formed by the fusion of two clavicles. It’s important to flight because of its elasticity and the tendons that attach to it.  It’s important to humans because it’s been used for divination since the time of the ancient Etruscans. In the third edition of John Russell Bartlett‘s 1859 Dictionary of…

a fine kettle of fish

a fine kettle of fish This phrase is used to describe a troublesome situation or a muddle. “I’ve burned the roast. We don’t have anything to serve our guests as a main dish. This is a fine kettle of fish.” “A kettle of fish” refers to the long, oval, metal saucepans that have been used for centuries to poach whole…

canoodle

“Canoodle” means to kiss and cuddle amorously, to pet or fondle. The origin is unknown, but the Oxford English Dictionary says that in the 1830s, the word was used in Britain in a sense of “cheat” or “overpower.” Folk etymology cites the use of two-person canoes to escape a chaperon by couples during Victorian and Edwardian times. And, today, “canoodling”…

cold turkey

To “go cold turkey” means to withdraw suddenly and completely from addictive substances, such as alcohol, heroin, and chocolate cake, and endure the resulting unpleasant experience. Also, predominantly in the USA, it means plain speaking. The Oxford English Dictionary says the phrase first appeared in print in the early 1900s, and was later tied specifically to quitting addictive substances in…

best bib and tucker

If you’re dressed up in your best bib and tucker, you’re wearing your best clothes. The phrase arose in the 1600s, when people wore a bib (frill at front of a shirt or dress) or a tucker (ornamental lace covering a woman’s neck and shoulders). We no longer wear either, but the phrase survives, perhaps because of pleasing alliteration and…