keep your eyes peeled

“Keep your eyes peeled” means to keep your eyes wide open, to keep a sharp lookout, to stay alert. One form of this expression, “keep your eyes skinned” was used on the frontier and  recorded in 1833, in  the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Frederickson: “I wish I may be shot if I don’t think you had…

crackpot

A “crackpot” is a person with illogical, senseless, or wild ideas; an eccentric, a crank. Some people might assume the word is related to drugs because crack and pot are both slang words for different drugs. However, it is actually is quite old and comes from another source entirely. It developed from the combination of cracked and pot, and their…

dibs

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following meanings of the word dibs: —A game played by children (also called dibbs, or dibstones) with pebbles or the knucklebones of sheep; also the name of the play pieces (late 1600s) —A children’s word to make first claim on something (1907) —A counter used in card games as a substitute for money —A…

October word herd

Lose face — to be humiliated, to lose one’s reputation, to suffer public disgrace. In this context, “face” means: prestige, dignity, honor, respect, status. It could be also defined as how one appears, or wishes to appear, to friends, family, and business associates. The phrase “lose face” began as a translation of the Chinese phrase tiu lien. To “save face”…

doggerel

“Doggerel” is poetry irregular in rhythm and in rhyme, often deliberately for comic effect. Alternatively, it can mean verse which has a monotonous rhythm, easy rhyme, and trivial meaning. The word is derived from the Middle English dogerel, meaning nonsense and probably related to the idea of something only fit for a dog. In English it has been used as…

chew the scenery

“Chew the scenery” means to overact, or be melodramatic. In other words, “ham it up.” Brewer’s Twentieth Century Phrase and Fable says the phrase was invented by the New York columnist and wit Dorothy Parker in one of her scathing reviews around 1930. But it’s older than that. There is a much earlier example in the Rocky Mountain News of…

chitchat

“Chat” is casual small talk or gossip. “Chitchat” is the same, for it’s simply a reduplication of chat. It’s something humans obviously love to do because it has so many synonyms. Here are a few: cackle, chin music, chin wag, gab, gossip, jangle, jaw, palaver, patter, rap, schmooze, small talk, chatter, natter, and yatter. “Chatter” has been in use as…

cloud-cuckoo-land

“Cloud-cuckoo-land” is a realm of fantasy or an unrealistically ideal state where everything is perfect. A person who lives in “cloud cuckoo land” is someone, like the Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who says, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Such a statement hints that the person referred to is seen as…

cock a snook

“Cocking a snook” is a sign of derision or contempt, made by putting the thumb on the nose, holding the palm open and perpendicular to the face, and wiggling the remaining fingers. It is used mostly by schoolchildren, often combined with verbal insults, sticking out the tongue or blowing a raspberry. Americans call it the “the five-fingered salute.” It is…

bunco

“Bunco” is a game or swindling scheme. A “bunco squad” (or “fraud squad”) is a police department dealing with fraud. A “bunco crime” is a swindle in which a person is cheated at gambling, persuaded to buy a nonexistent or worthless object, or otherwise victimized. And a “bunco artist”? A confidence trickster or con artist. Bunco was originally a confidence…