Category: phrase sources

in dire straits

If you’re “in dire straits,” you’re in desperate trouble or impending danger. “Dire” first appears in English, as a mutation from Latin dirus, in the mid-1500s, and it became popular as a useful adjective to mean extremely serious. “Straits” are narrow passages of water which connect two larger bodies of water. Navigating straits can be perilous. In the mid-1500s again,…

smart cookie

The word “cookie” comes from the Dutch word koekje, which means “little cake,” according to The New Food Lover’s Companion.  The first cookie-like “cakes” were thought to have originated in 7th century Persia, one of the earliest countries where sugar was cultivated.     Later, “cookie” became a slang word, and has been used since 1920, according to the Online…

Short takes

Here are some interesting short phrases and words to fire up your imagination. Camaraderie — a cordial feeling among comrades (1840 French: camaraderie) Deliciate — an obsolete word meaning to delight oneself, to feast and revel Dogging it — working slowly or just pretending to work Five will get you ten — in all likelihood; chances are good that: from…

flummery

My friend Cathy suggested “flummery” as another word for baloney. And yes, that is one definition for it, but it’s also a food made from the husks of oats steeped in water, called in Scotland sowens, which developed into a sweet dessert popular in the British Isles.  The name is derived from the Welsh word for a similar dish made…

hang in there

“Hang in there” is a slang expression meaning “Keep on trying! Stick with it!” We use this expression to encourage someone going through a tough time. It became popular in the 1970s due to a popular poster that bore the phrase. The poster featured a Siamese cat hanging from a bamboo pole, looking determined to stay there. The original photograph…

green thumb

“Green thumb” is used to describe someone’s skill at gardening or growing plants. “Green fingers” first appeared in the 1930s, followed about ten years later by “green thumb.” As to how one’s thumb or fingers get green, there seem to be several theories. It may come from the fact that algae growing on the outside of earthenware pots will stain…

thumbs up

“Thumbs up” is a thumb signal, a common hand gesture achieved by a closed fist held with the thumb extended upward in approval or downward in disapproval. The source of the thumb gesture is not certain but a number of origins have been proposed. According to Anthony Corbeill, a classical studies professor who extensively researched the practice, “thumbs up” in…

weasel words

“Weasel words” is an expression describing words meant to make a statement sound more legitimate and impressive but which are in fact meaningless. Weasel words give the impression of taking a firm position while avoiding commitment to any specific claim. Weasel words are often sloppy intensifiers: significantly, substantially, reasonable, meaningful, compelling, undue, clearly, obviously, manifestly, if practicable, rather, duly, virtually,…

poppycock

“Poppycock” is nonsense, rubbish, empty prattle, or claptrap, and was, in the last century, often used as an exclamation of disagreement. The word originated around 1852, in the US, probably introduced by Dutch immigrants from the Dutch word poppekak and soon morphed into “poppycock.” An oft-repeated theory is that the word came from the Dutch word pappekak, meaning “soft excrement,”…

dead reckoning

From the Oxford English Dictionary, “dead reckoning” means “The estimation of a ship’s position from the distance run by the log and the courses steered by the compass, with corrections for current, leeway, etc., but without astronomical observations.” The explanation applies to both ships and aircraft.  Wikipedia tells me that, “Dead reckoning is subject to cumulative errors. Advances in navigational…