Month: March 2016

ear idioms

listen with half an ear — not giving your full attention to what is being said or played. I couldn’t find any history or stories about this phrase, which I guess is not surprising, since the meaning is pretty obvious. However, I did find a whole long list of idioms about the ear, though no history about these either. Here…

Easter eggs

These are decorated eggs often given to celebrate Easter or springtime. The oldest tradition is to use hard-boiled chicken eggs, dyed or painted, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs or plastic eggs filled with candy. Eggs are a traditional symbol of fertility and rebirth, which of course ties in with it being spring. However, there’s a modern…

by the skin of my teeth

Narrowly; barely; by an amount equal to the thickness of the (imaginary) skin on one’s teeth. Usually used in regard to a narrow escape from a disaster. “I escaped the burning building by the skin of my teeth. One more second in there and I’d have been toast.” The phrase first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, 1560, in…

Miscellanea

Out of the blue: without any warning or preparation. Variation: out of a clear blue sky. Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile: people will take advantage of your generosity. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: the sexes should be treated in the same way and not be subjected to different standards. (John Ray’s…

cut the mustard

The phrase means to succeed; to have the ability to do something; to come up to expectations. A similar idiom is ‘be up to snuff.’ The phrase is probably more often used in the negative form, as ‘can’t cut the mustard,’ meaning ‘not able to handle the job.’ An older phrase is ‘to be the mustard’ (c. 1903) meaning ‘to…

cuts no ice

Cuts no ice means to have no influence or effect, doesn’t get the job done or impress anyone. The idiom was first recorded in the US in the 19th century. It may have been a figurative expression right from the start, based on the use of ice in many ways and playing on its hardness and coldness as a metaphor…

keep me posted

‘Keep me posted’ is an idiom implying that one person will keep another up-to-date with information on a particular situation.  It could have several origins. For instance, the earliest Old English use denoting a long stick of wood was taken from the Latin term “postis” of the same meaning. Gradually a ‘post’ began to refer to both the pole on…

carrot and/or stick

Some people believe the proper phrase is ‘carrot on a stick,’ meaning an incentive, a carrot tied to a long stick and dangled in front of a balky donkey. Others believe it’s ‘carrot and stick,’ suggesting control of behavior by a combination of bribery and threat. Documentary evidence is scarce. The phrase “carrot-persuaded donkey” was used in 1851, and in…