Month: June 2016

beyond the pale

Outside the bounds of morality, the law, acceptable behaviour, and good judgement, etc.  Pale, as a noun, is an old term for a pointed piece of wood driven into the ground, usually a fencepost or a fence, thus a barrier. It has also been used to mean “territory under an authority’s jurisdiction.” The word is from the same Latin source…

catbird seat

In a superior or advantageous position. “Sitting pretty”! “The catbird seat” is an American idiom used to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand in all types of dealings, but often used in describing sports. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded usage occurred in a 1942 humorous short story by James Thurber…

white elephant

A useless or troublesome possession, especially one expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of. White (albino) elephants were regarded as holy in ancient times in several Asian countries. The tradition derives from tales that associate a white elephant with the birth of the Buddha, as his mother was reputed to have dreamed of a white elephant presenting her with…

if wishes were horses, beggars would ride

This is an English language proverb and nursery rhyme, originating in the 16th century, which suggests if wishing could make things happen, then even the poorest people would have everything they wanted. One common version of the rhyme: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. If turnips were watches, I’d wear one by my side. If “if’s” and “and’s” were…

on the lam

This means ‘flight,’ as in 1897, from a US slang verb meaning ‘to run off’ (1886), of uncertain origin. It might be from the first element of lambaste, which was used in British student slang for ‘beat’ since the 1590s. If so, it would give the word the same sense as the slang expression ‘beat it.’ ‘Lam, lammister’ and ‘on…

turncoat

The first written use of this term was by J. Foxe in Actes & Monumentes in 1570, where it was defined as: “One who changes his principles or party; a renegade; an apostate.”  Opposing armies usually wear uniforms of contrasting colors to prevent soldiers getting killed by  ‘friendly fire.’ Thus the term ‘turn-coat’ indicates that an individual has changed sides…

sapiosexual

This word does not appear in my 2004 Random House Unabridged Dictionary. But sources on the Net define it as, “One who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature.” Since I love the idea of making up words, I went looking for definitions and opinions. The opinions were not exactly flattering. A shibboleth used by poseurs attracted to the appearance…