Origin: A person seeing a table piled high with sumptuous food has a tendency to get too many and/or too large a portion. Since the problem is brought on by the eyes and a lack of reason, the person is portrayed a one whose eyes are bigger than their stomach. Elephant in the room Meaning: An important and obvious topic, which everyone present is aware of, but which isn’t discussed, as such discussion is considered to be uncomfortable. Origin: The theme of the exhibition was global poverty.
By painting the elephant in the same bold pattern as the room’s wallpaper, Banksy emphasized the phrase’s meaning, by both making the elephant even more obvious and by giving those who chose to ignore it (like the woman in the tableau) an opportunity to pretend that it had blended into the wallpaper background. Even at the turning of the tide Meaning: The phrase is used to denote some change from a previously stable course of events. Origin: The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V where he use turning of the tide in a letter.
Meaning: Music with an instant appeal but with little lasting significance. Origin: The term may have been in use before 1977, although I can find no references to it in print that predate Reddy’s album title. The term did get picked up though and soon became a generic term for music that was initially attractive but with little lasting substance. Candy is of course what the US calls the confectionery that many parts of the English-speaking world call sweets. The sugary, insubstantial imagery is well suited to these phrases. Excuse my French Meaning: Please forgive my swearing.
Origin: A coy phrase used when someone who has used a swear-word attempts to pass it off as French. The coyness comes from the fact the both the speaker and listener are of course both well aware the swear-word is indeed English. F Fair and square Meaning: Honest and straightforward, especially of business dealings. Origin: In the 16th century ‘square’ meant ‘fair and honest’ so ‘fair and square’ is tautological. George Puttenham used that meaning of square in The arte of English poesie, 1589:”[Aristotle] termeth a constant minded man – a square man.
“Francis Bacon’s essay Of Prophecies, 1604 is the first known use of ‘fair and square’: Fast asleep Meaning: soundly asleep. Origin: The ‘fast’ in ‘fast asleep’ derives from the Old German ‘fest’, meaning ‘stuck firmly’; ‘not easily moveable’ – as in ‘stuck fast’. ‘Asleep’ derives from ‘sleep’ in the same way that nautical adverbs like ‘aground’ and ‘astern’ derive from ‘ground’ and ‘stern’. To be ‘fast asleep’ was to be stuck firmly in sleep, analogous to a beached ship being ‘fast aground’. Filthy rich Meaning: Very rich, possibly having become so by unfair means.
Origin: The phrase comes from the word “filthy lucre” means money from dishonorable gain. This was first used as a noun phrase meaning “rich people; who have become so by dishonorable means” like gambling. Face the music Meaning: Face the truth Origin: Comes from the British military. When someone was court marshaled, there would be a military drum squad playing, hence face the music. The term “drummed out of the military” came from this practice…. From stem to stern Meaning: Thorough, complete. Origin: The very front of a ship is called the stem, the rear is called the stern.
From stem to stern includes the entire ship. G Get a leg up Meaning: To get a boost or advantage. Origin: This phrase may incorrectly invoke images of a dog raising its leg. In fact “Getting a leg up” is from the act of an equestrian receiving help in mounting a horse. The helper would create a foothold by cupping the hands to heft the rider upward, throwing a leg up and over the steed. Get of the wrong foot Meaning: Make a bad start to a project or relationship. Origin: The phrase comes from the idiom “put your best foot forward. ” This means to make a best impression.
Despite the implication we only have two choices, so if there’s a wrong foot there has to be a right one too and get off on the right foot is also in common use. Graveyard shift Meaning: A late-night/early-morning work shift. Origin: So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a “bone-house” and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins was found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.
Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer. ” Grinning like a Cheshire cat Meaning: Grin broadly. Origin: The phrase comes from the novel “Alice in Wonderland” where she asked the duchess why the cat grinned. The duchess answered “Because it’s a Cheshire cat! ” ‘I didn’t know that Cheshire cats always grinned; in fact, I didn’t know that cats COULD grin. ‘ ‘They all can,’ say the Duchess; ‘and most of them do.
‘ Good as gold Meaning: Well – behaved and obedient. Origin: When banknotes (known as bills in the USA and some other countries) were first introduced they weren’t considered to be money in the sense we now think of them. They were promissory notes or IOUs. Gold or silver was real money as it had intrinsic value. Notes were just promises to pay in coin. UK banknotes, like those of many other countries, still include messages like this, signed by the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England: ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ten pounds’.
So, ‘as good as gold’ ought really to be ‘as genuine as gold’, but the more usual meaning of ‘good’ has taken precedence over the years and left us with the usual meaning of the phrase. H High on the hog Meaning: Extravagantly. Origin: The best meat is on the upper portion of the pig. Rich people have always been afforded this luxury while the servants, slaves and poor have always had to eat pig’s feet, chitterlings, cracklings, etc. – low on the hog. Horse of a different color Meaning: Unlike the subject at hand. Origin: Horses are registered at birth and the registration includes a record of their color.
When a horse trades hands due to sale, the registration is also transferred. Sometimes the color recorded on the registration may not match the actual color of the horse leading one to suspect the horse is not the one in the registration. Horses sometimes change color as they age, just as some people’s hair changes color. More likely the horse is not the one represented on the registration but is actually an entirely different horse. Hold your feet to the fire Meaning: To hold one accountable for a commitment, make good on a promise.
Origin: Pertains to torture used during the Crusade’s. As a method for extracting confession for heresy, non-believers were positioned in a manner that allowed the inquisitor to apply flames to the feet of the accused. This was done until the accused confessed or died. Head over heels Meaning: Excited, and/or turning cartwheels to demonstrate one’s excitement. Origin: Head over heels’ is now most often used as part of ‘head over heels in love’. When first coined it wasn’t used that way though and referred exclusively to being temporarily the wrong way up.
It is one of many similar phrases that we use to describe things that are not in their usual state – ‘upside-down’, ‘topsy-turvy’, ‘topple up tail’, ‘arse over tea-kettle’, ‘bass-backwards’ etc. Hard lines Meaning: Bad luck Origin: Clearly the derivation of ‘hard lines’ is entirely dependent on which line was being referred to when the phrase was coined. There is a reference to lines in the King James Version of the Bible, 1611, and that is the basis of several early citations of ‘hard lines’:Psalms 16:6 The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.