Month: May 2017

charley horse

Charley horse is a North American name for a muscle spasm. Charley horses can occur in virtually any muscle, but are most common in the legs. These spasms are marked by extremely uncomfortable muscle contractions, which can last from several seconds to a whole day.  It is uncertain how the term ‘charley horse’ arose, but the main theories relate to…

lead up the garden path

To deceive someone, to hoodwink or mislead them in an enticing way. Example: “The voters had been led up the garden path too often to take a candidate’s promises seriously.” The first published instance of ‘lead up the garden,’ so far as we know, is in Ethel Mannin’s Sounding Brass (1926) where it refers to women leading men ‘up the…

one-horse town

A very small town that is typically regarded as dull or boring. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “a small or rural town; a town where nothing important or exciting happens.” This expression, first recorded in 1857, presumably alluded to a town so small that a single horse would suffice for its transportation needs. Or, perhaps, that only…

four-footed language

Outfox: To defeat (someone) by being more clever or cunning than they are; outwit them. You may outfox your opponent with quick thinking, tricky strategies, or sneaky tricks. Outfox has been used in this way since the 1930s, from the old-fashioned verb fox, “to delude or deceive,” which stems from the idea (popular in folklore) of foxes being wily or…

not enough room to swing a cat

Very cramped quarters, as in “There’s not enough room to swing a cat in this tent.”  The earliest citation for the phrase was in 1665, by which point it would already have been in common use, and may have originated in naval slang. It is commonly thought to allude to the cat-o’-nine-tails, or “cat,” a whip with nine lashes often…

six ways from (to) Sunday

To do something thoroughly, completely, and in every way imaginable. For example, “We can go about solving this problem six ways from Sunday, but we need to pick just one of those approaches and go with it.” “Six ways” can represent the six days after, or the six days before Sunday. Arriving at Sunday is inevitable, no matter which direction…

trip the light fantastic

To “trip the light fantastic” means to dance, especially in an imaginative or ‘fantastic’ manner. Here, ‘trip’ doesn’t mean to stumble or fall, but rather to move lightly and nimbly, to dance. Chaucer used it that way as early as 1386, in The Miller’s Tale: “In twenty manere koude he trippe and daunce.” (In twenty ways could he trip and…