Month: February 2020

top notch

“Top notch” means excellent. This phrase originated in the US and, eventually “the tops” came to mean the same thing. The British term is “topping.”  The earliest example may be from an advertisement in the Huron Reflector of Norwalk, Ohio, dated 29 April 1845: “J. WHYLER Has just arrived from the Great Emporium, with a Tremendous Cargo of Spring and…

bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

“Bright-eyed and busy-tailed” means cheerful and lively, alert and eager, with lots of energy. The Oxford English Dictionary says the phrase originated in America. From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson: “Bright-eyed is obvious and the bushy-tailed here is a reference to the tail of a cat, which fluffs up when the animal becomes excited. It…

cocktail #2

A “cocktail” is an alcoholic mixed drink, either a combination of spirits, or one or more spirits along with other ingredients such as fruit juice, lemonade, flavored syrup, or cream. Non-alcoholic mixed drinks that resemble cocktails are known as “mocktails” or “virgin cocktails.” More specifically, “cocktail” means a beverage with at least three flavors, one of which is alcohol. More…

cocktail #1

The word “cocktail” arose in the early 1600s, originally used as an adjective describing a creature with a tail like that of a cock, specifically a horse with a docked tail. Back in those good old days, it was customary to dock the tails of horses that were not thoroughbreds, to identify them as inferior. They were called cocktailed horses,…

to carry a torch

The idiom “to carry a torch” (for someone) means to love or to be romantically infatuated with a person, especially when such feelings are not reciprocated. The torch is a common emblem of both enlightenment and hope. Thus the Statue of Liberty, actually Liberty Enlightening the World, lifts her torch. Crossed reversed torches were signs of mourning that appear on…

lock, stock, and barrel

The phrase “lock, stock, and barrel” means “the whole thing, entire and complete.” It’s been suggested that the phrase refers to a shopkeeper’s possessions and, while that may appear reasonable, it actually refers to a musket. Surprisingly, muskets were in use for several centuries before the phrase first appeared in print. Guns have been in use since at least the…

made up out of whole cloth

“Made up out of whole cloth” means to fabricate a story which is wholly false.  Back in the 15th century, “whole cloth” meant cloth that ran the full width of the loom, not yet cut up for sewing. The term dropped into disuse in the 18th century, except in the figurative sense. But by the 19th century, especially in the…