Category: phrase sources

bury the hatchet

To bury the hatchet means to make peace with an adversary. This American phrase is an allusion to the figurative or literal practice of putting away the tomahawk at the cessation of hostilities among or by Native Americans in the Eastern United States, specifically concerning the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy and in Iroquois custom in general. Hatchets were buried…

blacklist

A blacklist is a list of individuals or organizations that some entity finds undesirable, for whatever reason. It might be due to a legitimate concern: a blacklist of known criminals, for example, or of countries with an unacceptable level of government corruption. But blacklists are just as often used for discrimination on social or ideological grounds. An infamous example is…

blow your mind

If something blows your mind, you are very excited or surprised by it. This can include, of course, the use of hallucinatory drugs. If you tend to take things literally, ‘blew my mind’ could mean your head exploding, and ‘blew me away’ might evoke a gust of wind. ‘Boggle the mind’ is similar, but it seems to me to be…

catch-22

A catch-22 is frustrating situation in which the attempt to escape makes escape impossible, a situation in which the desired outcome is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.  You could also describe it as: ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t.’ Or, perhaps, ‘heads I win, tails you lose.’ Along with…

third degree

This phrase has several meanings. For mystery readers, it means long and intense questioning by police to obtain information or a confession. For the medical profession, it refers to burns of the most severe kind, affecting tissue below the skin. For lawyers, it means the least serious category of a crime, especially murder. The ‘third degree’ is sometimes a euphemism…

jury-rigged

Briefly, jury-rigged means something was assembled or repaired quickly with the materials on hand. Jerry-built means it was cheaply built. Jerry-rigged is a combination of these two words. Jerry-rigged is a relatively new word. Many people consider it to be an incorrect version of jury-rigged, but it’s widely used in everyday speech. Although ‘jury-rigged’ is rooted in the nautical world,…

gild the lily

The Oxford English Dictionary has this definition: “to paint (or to gild) the lily: to embellish excessively, to add ornament where none is needed.” The phrase is a misquotation from Shakespeare’s King John (1595): Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp, To guard a title that was rich before, To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, To throw a…