cocktail #1

The word “cocktail” arose in the early 1600s, originally used as an adjective describing a creature with a tail like that of a cock, specifically a horse with a docked tail. Back in those good old days, it was customary to dock the tails of horses that were not thoroughbreds, to identify them as inferior. They were called cocktailed horses,…

to carry a torch

The idiom “to carry a torch” (for someone) means to love or to be romantically infatuated with a person, especially when such feelings are not reciprocated. The torch is a common emblem of both enlightenment and hope. Thus the Statue of Liberty, actually Liberty Enlightening the World, lifts her torch. Crossed reversed torches were signs of mourning that appear on…

lock, stock, and barrel

The phrase “lock, stock, and barrel” means “the whole thing, entire and complete.” It’s been suggested that the phrase refers to a shopkeeper’s possessions and, while that may appear reasonable, it actually refers to a musket. Surprisingly, muskets were in use for several centuries before the phrase first appeared in print. Guns have been in use since at least the…

made up out of whole cloth

“Made up out of whole cloth” means to fabricate a story which is wholly false.  Back in the 15th century, “whole cloth” meant cloth that ran the full width of the loom, not yet cut up for sewing. The term dropped into disuse in the 18th century, except in the figurative sense. But by the 19th century, especially in the…

golliwog

The “golliwog” is a black doll character created by Florence Kate Upton for children’s books in the late 1800s and usually depicted as a type of rag doll.  It was reproduced as a children’s toy which was very popular in the UK and Australia up until the 1970s. The doll had black skin, eyes rimmed in white, clown lips and…

penny wise, pound foolish

“Penny wise, pound foolish” means being careful with spending of small sums of money but careless and wasteful with larger amounts. The expression originated in England and was coined by Robert Burton in his work The Anatomy of Melancholy published in 1621. Burton was a scholar at Oxford University, primarily in the field of mathematics. Someone who is being penny…

bated breath

“Bated” breath is breath that is held, or subdued, because of some emotion. “Bated” is simply a shortened form of “abated,” meaning “to bring down, lessen, depress, or stop.” Therefore, “to wait with bated breath” essentially means to hold your breath with anticipation.  The problem is that “bated” sounds exactly like “baited” and the two are often confused. Also, “bated”…