Category: phrase sources

to boot

Moreover, in addition to, as well as, besides, to advantage, into the bargain. It has nothing to do with footwear or feet. It’s entirely unrelated to the more recent English word ‘boot,’ the one that may give you blisters. But it is kin to the English words ‘better’ and ‘best.’ According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original ‘boot’ is…

get-go

From the beginning.  It’s generally agreed that this phrase came from American Black English during the middle 1960s. It’s been popular in sports journalism, perhaps because of its catchy, alliterative quality, but also because it’s informal and conversational. The earliest record of the phrase is from 1966, when it appeared in a story by Toni Cade Bambera, a writer, civil…

talk the hind leg off a donkey

To talk incessantly, either persuasively, or tiresomely. Someone who can talk the hind leg off a donkey definitely has the gift of the gab. There are many other things that can have their legs talked off, including chairs, dogs, stoves, horses, and elephants, though I’ve never heard any of those used. Possibly arising in Ireland around the early 1800s, the…

break a leg

In the theater world, people typically say ‘Break a leg’ to wish actors and musicians good luck before they go on stage to perform. Other superstitions claim that it is bad luck to whistle in a theatre, or to say the final line of a play during dress rehearsal. According to this theory, wishing someone ‘good luck’ would be invoking…

romance

For many people, ‘romance’ may trigger an image of two people strolling in Paris or Rome, speaking French or Italian, and gazing happily at each other. It is often assumed that certain languages acquired the attribute ‘romance’ because of their beautiful romantic sounds.  Not true! Historically, ‘romance’ means ‘of Rome.’ As the Roman Empire disintegrated, the Latin word romanticus (of…

bankrupt

This word carries several meanings: a person or organization legally declared unable to pay outstanding debts; completely lacking in a particular quality or value; and, as a verb, to reduce someone to bankruptcy. Synonyms: insolvent, failed, ruined, owing money, in the red, in arrears, in receivership. In the sixteenth century, moneylenders or traders used to conduct their business on benches…

a kick in the pants

The original negative meaning for this phrase is punishment or criticism or other bad treatment, and goes back to the 17th century.  The positive meaning of ‘kick in the pants,’ is excitement or pleasure. One meaning of ‘kick’ is the kind you get from strong liquor, a jolt or sharp stimulation, and often, therefore, a thrill. Think of the song,…