Month: January 2018

tinker’s damn

Something insignificant, not worth even a moment’s consideration. Example: ‘he doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about what happens.’ The OED defines ‘tinker’ as “a craftsman (usually itinerant) who mends pots, kettles, and other metal household utensils.” Back in the 1700s and 1800s, tinkers were pretty much at the bottom of the social scale, along with vagrants and Gypsies, and they…

sucker punch

An unexpected blow that catches a person completely off guard. The term sucker punch dates back to 1947 in the sport of boxing. Boxing great Jack Dempsey wrote, “The right lead (for a right-handed boxer) is called a sucker punch.”  However, in boxing, a sucker punch thrown outside of the rules is illegal. Such a sucker punch is any sneak…

saved by the bell

Saved by a last minute intervention, akin to the ringing of a bell to signal the end of a round in boxing. The expression is boxing slang, arising in the last half of the 1800s. A boxer who is still on his feet but close to being knocked down can be saved from losing by the bell ringing to indicate…

punch-drunk

This can mean slap-happy, dazed, or fatigued, the way a boxer might feel after receiving multiple blows. It can also mean a person (especially a boxer) having cerebral concussion caused by repeated blows to the head and consequently exhibiting unsteadiness of gait, hand tremors, slow muscular movement, hesitant speech, and dulled mentality. ‘Punch-drunk’ originated in the boxing ring. So did…

assorted punches

Here are more idioms from the world of boxing. one-two punch:  Any strong or effective combination of two things. In boxing, this means a left-hand jab immediately followed by a right cross. The jab, usually thrown with 60% power, is designed to get the fighter throwing the jab in range while distracting the opponent. The right cross is a longer…

hit below the belt / low blow

An unfair, underhanded tactic, from the sport of boxing, in which it is illegal to hit an opponent below the belt or waist. Both phrases are also applied to speech, where someone says something that is too personal, and often hurtful. A groin attack, or a ‘low blow,’ is a deliberate attempt to cause pain to one’s opponent. Often used…

duke it out / put up your dukes (fists)

Fight, or hit with the fists / invite to fight The connection between ‘dukes’ and ‘fists’ isn’t obvious at first glance, but it derives from Cockney rhyming slang: Duke of Yorks = forks = fingers/hands. In rhyming slang, the intended word is replaced by a phrase in which one word rhymes with it. A standard example is ‘china plate’ meaning…