cock a snook

“Cocking a snook” is a sign of derision or contempt, made by putting the thumb on the nose, holding the palm open and perpendicular to the face, and wiggling the remaining fingers. It is used mostly by schoolchildren, often combined with verbal insults, sticking out the tongue or blowing a raspberry. Americans call it the “the five-fingered salute.” It is…

bunco

“Bunco” is a game or swindling scheme. A “bunco squad” (or “fraud squad”) is a police department dealing with fraud. A “bunco crime” is a swindle in which a person is cheated at gambling, persuaded to buy a nonexistent or worthless object, or otherwise victimized. And a “bunco artist”? A confidence trickster or con artist. Bunco was originally a confidence…

gone for a burton

“Gone for a burton” is a British expression meaning that a person is dead, or that some item is broken. “My washing machine has gone for a burton.” The term was popularised by the RAF around the time of World War II. The phrase dates from mid-1900s Britain and the first reference to it in print is a definition in…

Caesar salad

A Caesar salad is made of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with lemon or lime juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. In its original form, this salad was prepared and served tableside. In spite of Mediterranean ingredients, the salad has nothing to do with any Roman emperors. The salad’s creation is…

Canuck

“Canuck” is a slang term for a Canadian.  The origins of the word are uncertain. The term “Kanuck” is first recorded in 1835 as an Americanism, originally referring to Dutch Canadians or French Canadians. By the 1850s, the spelling with a “C” became predominant. Today, many people use “Canuck” as a mostly affectionate term for any Canadian.  The Montreal Gazette…

the twelfth word herd

Drawing a bead — taking careful aim with a gun, or focusing on a plan or goal. (1830) The “bead” in this expression comes from the small metal knob that forms the front sight of a gun, and resembles the small perforated, usually spherical bodies, of glass, amber, metal, wood, etc., used as an ornament, either strung in a series…

behind the 8-ball

If you’re “behind the 8-ball,” you’re at a disadvantage, in a losing position. According to a 1931 issue of the New York Times, the phrase means “in a tight spot.” It is often assumed that the expression derives from the inability to use the 8-ball in a combination in the game of eight-ball—if the cue ball is directly behind the…

boogie-woogie

“Boogie-woogie” is a style of blues music, closely linked to jazz forms like ragtime and stride, usually played on the piano, and mainly associated with dancing. It developed in African-American communities in the 1870s and became generally popular during the late 1920s. For the most part, boogie-woogie tunes are twelve-bar blues, although the style has been used for songs with…

bumpkin

A “bumpkin” is an unsophisticated or socially awkward person from the countryside; a yokel, a hayseed, a hick. There are many words to indicate the dim-wittedness of rustics but few to suggest their intelligence. Obviously it’s meant to be insulting. A “bumpkin” was originally, in the 1500s, a name the English used for the Dutch, whom they portrayed as small,…

blooper

A “blooper” is an error, usually accidental and humorous and, for the most part,  made during a live radio or TV broadcast, but they also occur in the sports world. With the pressure that performers endure, it’s not surprising that such goofs happen. “Blooper” was coined from the word bloop, a term used in 1920s American radio to refer to…