Month: October 2017

ass over teakettle

Tumbling upside down, topsy-turvy. ‘Ass over teakettle’ is one of many variants of an expression meaning ‘head over heels; topsy-turvy; in confusion’. The usual British version is ‘ass over tip’ (or tit), which occurs in James Joyce’s Ulysses, among other works. This form also occurs in America. For instance, in The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck has a character say, “You…

face the music

To accept criticism or other unpleasant consequences of your actions. “You were the one who stayed up so late last night, and now this morning you have to face the music.” The phrase first arises in the mid 19th century, and appears to be American. The earliest citation for the phrase is in The New Hampshire Statesman & State Journal,…

see a man about a dog

Often used in reply to an awkward question, this phrase usually means that the responder is unwilling to reveal the true nature of his or her business. It’s been a useful excuse for absenting oneself from company for about 150 years, though the real reason for slipping away has not always been the same. According to Eric Partridge, A Dictionary…

shaggy dog story

An extremely long-winded story that involves an excruciatingly detailed build-up leading, eventually, to a punchline that is only ‘funny’ as a practical joke where the listener has been tricked into paying close attention to a long, pointless story. Shaggy dog stories play upon the listener’s preconceptions of joke-telling. The audience listens with certain expectations, which are not met or met…

full of beans

To be peppy, energetic or frisky; to be in high spirits, rarin’ to go, feeling your oats, enthusiastic.  This phrase has been around for about a hundred and fifty years, and it seems generally understood that it arose in horse racing. Horse beans have been raised for fodder at least since Roman days, and they provided the animal with more…

going to hell in a handbasket

A situation getting rapidly out of hand and going downhill fast. Other versions would be ‘going to the dogs’ or ‘on a slippery slope.’ The first reference to ‘going to hell in a handbasket’ in print occurs in a 1714 entry in Samuel Sewall’s Diary, an American publication. Another is found in the House Documents of the US Congress, in…

balls to the wall

Going all out, with maximum effort, similar to the automotive ‘pedal to the metal.’  The phrase is first found in military aviation. In many planes, a control stick may be topped with a ball-shaped grip.  A throttle on an early aircraft had such a ball on the end of it.  In order to go full throttle, the pilot had to…

monkeyshines

A trick or prank like a monkey’s; mischief; buffoonery; tomfoolery; shenanigans.  ‘Monkeyshines’ is an American coinage dating back to the early 19th century. It’s one of several phrases that compare human and simian playful behavior.  We also use ‘monkey business,’ ‘monkey around,’ ‘more fun than a barrel of monkeys,’ ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ and so on. These phrases make being…

keep one’s nose to the grindstone

To work, study, or practice hard and steadily. To persist in an unpleasant task; to labor continuously, especially at hard, monotonous work.  There are two types of grindstones. One is used to grind grain and is called a millstone. The other is used for shaping, smoothing, and sharpening metal, including dull knife blades and axes, and is called a grindstone. …