Month: February 2016

take a gander

This expression means “take a look,” “get a peek,” “check it out,” and so on. ‘Gander’ means ‘male goose’ and derives from the Old English ‘gandra.’ The roots of the expression are also from England. A work of 1887, The Folk-Speech of South Cheshire, says, “Gonder, to stretch the neck like a gander, to stand at gaze.” The next known…

close, but no cigar

This popular idiom means to fall short of a successful outcome and get nothing for your efforts. It is said to those who fail to win a prize or succeed at a particular action. The phrase is believed to have arisen from the practice of giving cigars as prizes at carnivals in the US in the 19th century. Carnivals offer…

hook, line, and sinker

This phrase is used to emphasize that someone has been completely deceived or tricked. For example, ”he fell hook, line, and sinker for this year’s April Fool joke.” Synonyms: completely, totally, utterly, entirely, wholly, absolutely, through and through, one hundred percent, ‘lock, stock, and barrel,’ without reservation, Full Monty. Etymology: the phrase is based on the idea of a fish…

fishy

This means that something feels wrong in a way that isn’t completely obvious, something suspicious, doubtful, or questionable. ‘Fishy,’ in the sense of ‘shady’ or ‘questionable’ was first recorded about 1840, perhaps from the notion of ‘slipperiness,’ or of giving off a bad odor. So it may refer to the fact that fish cannot be trusted not to slip out…

head over heels

This phrase can mean to turn over completely in a forward motion, as in a somersault. Or it can mean to fall madly in love. Since this is Valentine’s Day, we’ll take it to mean ‘head over heels in love.’  When it was first used, however, it only had one meaning: being temporarily the wrong way up. There are many…

I’ll have your guts for garters

The threat of a serious reprisal. This phrase originated in Britain. It may well have had a literal meaning since it was first used in the Middle Ages, when disembowelment was used in the UK for torture and execution. In these more enlightened times the expression is limited to figurative examples like, “I don’t want to tell Mom I’ve lost…

short takes

It’s the shortest month of the year, which I thought was a good excuse to post expressions which are interesting but which don’t seem to have a history or, at least, none that I can find. I don’t know whether the seventh day of the month has any significance, but let’s pretend it does! A real corker: Odd, unique, special,…