Month: March 2021

pull the wool over someone’s eyes

To “pull the wool” over someone’s eyes means to deceive or hoodwink them. The usual source given for this expression is the wearing of woollen wigs, which were popular with both men and women in the 1500s and 1600s. However, the phrase itself originated in America in the 1800s. The earliest example of it in print appears to be in…

beat around the bush

“Beat around the bush” has four related meanings: – To discuss a subject without getting to the main point – To avoid discussing something difficult or embarrassing – To speak in a roundabout, indirect or misleading way – To attempt to hide the truth According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997), “beat the bushes for” is the original…

Achilles heel

The phrase “Achilles heel” means a person’s weak point, physical or emotional. Such a weakness, in spite of overall strength, often leads to the person’s downfall. In Greek mythology, when Achilles was a baby, it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent his death, his mother, Thetis, took Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to offer…

piece of cake

 A “piece of cake” means a straightforward task which is very easy to do. “I’m sure the test tomorrow will be a piece of cake for me. I’ve been studying for weeks!” The most accepted theory for its origin seems to be this: in the 1870s it was tradition to give cakes as prizes in competitions. In some parts of…

when pigs fly

“When pigs fly” is used to describe an impossible thing, something that will never happen. It’s often used humorously or sarcastically, especially as a comment on extreme ambition or deluded self-assurance. A similar phrase is, “when hell freezes over.” The original version of the succinct “pigs might fly” was “pigs fly with their tails forward,” which is first found in…

skedaddle

“Skedaddle” means to run away, flee in a panic, retreat quickly. The origin is almost totally obscure. It first appears in the 1860s as American Civil War military slang. “As soon as the rebs saw our red breeches … coming through the woods they skedaddled.” There’s a hint there of cowardice under fire, but as the word gained popularity in…

Short Stack Three

Booby prize — prize  given as a joke to the last-place finisher in a competition Brainiac — a comic book supervillain (1938); a very intelligent person (1982) Heebie-jeebies — anxiety, apprehension, jitters, the willies (1920s) Dicing with death — taking serious risks (1940) Step up to the plate — accept a challenge (from baseball) It’s your nickel — it’s your…

tomfoolery

“Tomfoolery” means playful or silly behavior. The Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines “tomfool” as, “A clumsy, witless fool, fond of stupid practical jokes. Hence ‘tomfoolery.’” “Tomfoolery” is also the Cockney rhyming slang for jewelry. Like most rhyming slang it then gets shortened to Tom. For example: “That’s a nice bit of old tom she’s got round her neck.”…

willy-nilly

“Willy-nilly” has two meanings. The first is “whether it is with or against your will,” and the second, which we tend to use today, is “in an unplanned, haphazard fashion.” One of the first citations for “willy-nilly” in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1608. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology says it’s a contraction of “will I, nill I”…