Month: December 2015

two shakes of a lamb’s tail

Lambs are playful creatures and move remarkably fast. Hence, “two shakes of a lamb’s tail” means “very quickly” and has done so since at least 1840 in America. (Cool Cats, Top Dogs, and Other Beastly Expressions, Christine Ammer, 1999) Where the phrase come from? We don’t know, but people generally agree that lambs can shake their tails so fast that…

neck of the woods

Generally, this means a district, neighbourhood, or region. In conversation, it usually means “around here” or “in this vicinity.” Since the 14th century, people have used “neck” to describe a variety of things that were narrow or constricted, like the top of a bottle, a mountain pass, an inlet of water, the fingerboard of a stringed instrument, and so on.…

counting sheep

A distraction technique used to combat insomnia. Insomnia has no doubt always been with us. People count sheep to relax is because it’s an activity that involves both sides of the brain: the visual – picturing the sheep, and the logical – counting in sequence. The mundane repetition helps people to relax.  According to Disciplina Clericalis, a text written in…

straight from the horse’s mouth

Getting information from the highest authority, unadulterated by an intermediary. Tips on which horse is a likely winner circulate amongst horse racing enthusiasts. The most trusted authorities are those who spend a lot of time with the horses. The phrase ‘from the horse’s mouth’ is supposed to be one step better than even that inner circle of humans, that is,…

when push comes to shove

We use this phrase when the pressure is on, when the situation is critical or urgent, when the time has come for action, even if it’s difficult.  For example, ‘He’s not a very good cook, but when push comes to shove, he can usually get a meal on the table.’ The path seems fairly straightforward from the words ‘push’ and…

biter bit

Or you could say, ‘the biter got bitten.’ The phrase is used to indicate that someone is being treated in the same way that they have treated others, usually badly. Now the cruel biter is being cruelly bitten and the original victim is getting his revenge. In the late 17th century, a biter was a cant term for a fraudster…

he who pays the piper names the tune

This is a way of saying that the ​person who is ​paying someone to do something can ​decide how it should be done. This expression is first recorded in the 17th century. Many people believe it could have arisen from the English version of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, published in English in 1605. However, the parallels…

wolf at the door

The threat of poverty or starvation This phrase comes from a time when people living in wilderness or less-populated areas feared wolves a great deal. People who knew little about wolves and were therefore superstitious about them believed that when a person was weak or helpless or let down their guard, wolves would race in from the shadows and kill…