Category: phrase sources

head in the sand

If you have your head in the sand, you’re refusing to confront or acknowledge a problem, or ignoring unwanted news or events in the hope that they will go away. This arises from the myth that ostriches hide their heads in the sand when faced with an attack by predators. The idea was apparently first recorded by the Roman writer, Pliny…

cut to the quick

“Cut to the quick” means to injure deeply or to wound, especially emotionally. The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins says, “Historically, both the noun ‘quick’ and the adjective and adverb forms come from the same root, the Anglo-Saxon ‘cwicu,’ meaning ‘alive or living.’” Literary examples date back at least to the early 1500s, in works by Shakespeare, Dryden,…

once more into the breach

This phrase means, literally: “try again.”  In Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, King Henry uses this phrase to encourage his soldiers, who are launching an attack through a breach in the walls of French Harfleur. His words are, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; / Or close the wall up with our English dead.”  Here “breach” means gap,…

give no quarter

In war, when a victor shows no clemency or mercy and refuses to spare the life of a vanquished opponent in return for their unconditional surrender, he is said to “give no quarter” (or take no prisoners). Effectively, it’s a death sentence. Before the 1300s, “quarter” meant the fourth part of something or the points of the compass. Eventually, the…

throw a monkey wrench into

When you “throw a monkey wrench into” something, you’re sabotaging or frustrating a project or plans. For example, you might say, “My boss threw a monkey wrench into my plans for going away for the weekend when he said I’d have to work Saturday.”  There is a theory that the “monkey” in monkey wrench is a misspelling of the inventor’s…

since Hector was a pup

This phrase means, “a very long time ago.”  The expression became popular in the 1920s when many schoolboys studied Greek and named their dogs Hector after the Homeric hero. The phrase is now obsolete, though there are similar ones still in use. For example, in the US military, it’s apparently common to refer to a period in the distant past…

shit happens

“Shit happens” is a common vulgar slang phrase used as a simple observation that life is full of unpredictable and often unpleasant events. It’s an acknowledgment that bad things happen to people seemingly for no particular reason. The phrase was first observed in 1964 but wasn’t used in a print publication until 1983. The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say:…