Questions tagged [phrase-origin]

For questions about the origin of a phrase. Also consider the 'etymology' tag.

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Origin of "realm of possibility"

What is the earliest known usage of "realm of possibility"? The term has the appearance of coming from a classic text, in that it is a) ubiquitous and b) metaphorical. Without any supporting ...
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Etymology of phrase, "to get the better/best of" [closed]

What is the origin of the term, "to get the better/best" of? While I've looked at some sources, they say the meaning without giving the etymology of the phrase. Since the meaning has to do ...
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4 votes
2 answers
134 views

What is the origin of the idiom "get/be shot of"?

Definition Get/be shot of someone/something slang To get rid of. — Collins Examples He didn't want to be seen near me and couldn't wait to get shot of me. City experts still reckon the company ...
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17 votes
2 answers
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Origin of the phrase "to have no truck with"

This phrase "to have no truck with" has bothered me ever since I stumbled upon it, the reason being it makes no logical sense whatsoever even remotely if you go by the lexical meaning of the ...
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16 votes
6 answers
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What sparked the figurative usage of “short fuse” in the 1960s?

According to the “Grammarist” the idiomatic expression “short fuse” is just a few decades old: The idiom “have a short fuse” meaning to anger quickly, comes from the fuse used to set off explosives ...
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What is the origin of the phrase "due east"?

Looking at the list of definitions for "due" (e.g. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/due#Adjective), the "due east" sense seems to be the odd one out. "Due" east isn't "...
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Origin of the phrase "head shop"

As more U.S. states legalize marijuana, "head shops" (places that sell drug paraphernalia and related items) are experiencing a bit of a comeback. Where did this term come from? Few online ...
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6 votes
2 answers
452 views

Is the phrase “nitty-gritty” racist?

A BBC article, dated 15 May 2002, asserts the expression nitty-gritty is banned from British politics (and also by police services) due to its supposedly disagreeable origin. The emphasis in bold is ...
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6 votes
3 answers
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Origin of the "angry/excited" meaning of "go nonlinear"

Lexico gives an additional definition of "go non-linear" as: go non-linear informal become very excited or angry, especially about a particular obsession don't mention the drug problem or ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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When and by whom was “text neck” coined?

Macmillan Dictionary buzzword site defines text neck as: damage to the neck muscles and spine caused by frequently bending over a smartphone, tablet device, etc for long periods of time and cites an ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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What is the definition and origin of the phrase "force the straits"?

I've seen the phrase used often in information about the WWI Gallipoli campaign ("forcing the straits" or "force the Dardanelles"). I know what force means (power, or using power ...
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What is the origin of "playing into someone's hands"?

Quote: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” the US president said, as he urged democracies around the world to unite against the Russian president in a speech in Poland’s capital ...
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2 votes
2 answers
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What does 'a time' in 'once upon a time' stand for?

Practically all English speakers are familiar with the formula 'once upon a time', and know very well what it is used for. The relationship of the meaning of that set phrase, as a whole, to the ...
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What is the origin of the idiom of “to stick it to someone”? [duplicate]

My cursory review so far has only been able to uncover the fact that dictionaries can’t even have a consensus on the exact meaning of it, and they differ substantially in how they define it. Collins — ...
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3 votes
3 answers
223 views

Why do some people say “negative growth” instead of using a single word indicating a decrease?

I am not a native English speaker, nor am I an economist. I have heard the term "negative growth" used in the context of Gross National Product (GNP), and it seems that it is also used in ...
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When did the term “moral cretin” originate?

The earliest example of the phrase I found was in an article titled “Against Rationalization” by Christopher Hitchens in The Nation (Sept 20, 2001): Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal ...
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6 votes
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What is the origin of the joke 'a freckle past a hair' when one is asked the time of day?

Growing up in Canada, I heard this dialogue a hundred times:\ Dude: "What time is it?" Guy pantomimes watch-checking, but his wrist is bare Guy: "It's a freckle past a hair." ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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When and where did the phrase "Blue alert" originate?

I've been trying to figure out where and when the phrase "blue alert" was first used. I know it has multiple meanings and I also found a reference to its origin, but I need to dig deeper. I ...
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2 votes
1 answer
116 views

What is the etymology of the phrase "Scraping the bottom of the barrel"?

I've known this phrase to mean roughly "Using ideas which are bad". The Collin's definition seems to be "to be forced to use one's last and weakest resource". I've seen claims that ...
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3 votes
4 answers
73 views

Where does the expression to ‘commune with nature’ come from?

This expression today is associated heavily with a sense of peace or wellbeing that is experienced through being in nature. I am curious to know its origins and other early uses. Sites like Lexico ...
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2 votes
2 answers
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A north country question: is Varmint the root of Warm 'un?

I would like to examine the proposition that the Yorkshire and north country term warm ‘un may derive from the word varmint. I was brought up in south Yorkshire and often heard children referred to as ...
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26 votes
6 answers
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Did Peter Piper steal a peck of American pickled peppers?

In the children's renowned tongue twister, which was first published in London 1813, we learn Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter ...
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5 votes
1 answer
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Origin of "the likes of which X has [or have or had] never seen"

One of Donald Trump's favorite rhetorical flourishes was (and perhaps still is) the wording "the likes of which X has [or have] never seen." While president, he used it on a number of ...
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10 votes
3 answers
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What is the origin of the phrase "circular firing squad"?

I've found many definitions online of the term, which the OED says is "used in reference to a situation in which a group of people are engaged in self-destructive internal conflicts and mutual ...
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The word "miracle" suggests, through common usage, a positive thing. Has it always? Or, like "awe", did it used to simply mean "momentous"?

Oxford asserts the word comes to us from Latin's miraculum, or an ‘object of wonder’, which in turn derives from mirari (‘to wonder’), itself a conjugation of mirus (‘wonderful’). Since "wonder&...
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12 votes
5 answers
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What is the origin of the idiom "Put on a clinic"?

I was rather fascinated by the idiom put on a clinic (meaning to perform extremely well) when I heard it used today for what I'm sure was the first time, because it sounded so cool. More than that, I ...
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1 vote
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What is the origin of the British phrase "Rough as houses"?

I'm preempting the usual comments by saying: If you're not British, you probably won't have heard it before. But it is a fairly well known phrase in BrE. For instance, in this book: Unfortunately, it ...
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8 votes
1 answer
552 views

Where does the idiom/story "You know what happened to the man who forced his pig" come from?

This phrase comes from my dad, who is of Bristolian stock, so it may be highly regional. I've only heard it spoken, and not written down. He uses it, I believe, when it looks like somebody is ...
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1 vote
1 answer
136 views

Idiom: bed of roses

Does anyone know why this idiom came into existence ? On this website it says: “A bed of roses” as an idiom originated in England and is quite an old expression. One of the earliest examples can be ...
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"Mirage of factors"

Today I came across the phrase "mirage of factors", used in the same way one would say "variety of factors". I thought this had to be a mistake, but a google search shows that this ...
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22 votes
4 answers
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“pig book” – when, where & why has a booklet of college students with photos been called a “pig book”?

I’m wondering how widespread geographically and in time was the usage of calling a paper “face book” (list of 1st year college students with photos, hometown & dorm room) a “pig book”, and what ...
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3 votes
1 answer
94 views

Where did the word red-tapism come from?

What is the origin of the word red-tapism? And what does it actually mean? Lexico says it first appeared in the mid-19th century in the Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, a London paper. Searching ...
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18 votes
3 answers
4k views

What is the origin of "don't punch a gift horse in the mouth"?

I had always thought that the phrase was "don't look...", but my friend insists that it is "don't punch..." and there are a non-zero number of web search results showing usage of ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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What is the origin of the "...on the X" phrase?

Example phrases: "...on the regular" "...on the daily" "...on the down low" "...on the DL" I'm curious whether these have a common origin. (Maybe there are ...
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2 votes
2 answers
260 views

Origin of the exact phrase "cold iron"?

Loosely inspired by this closed rpg.stackexchange question titled "What is Cold Iron actually? — Forget what it is; let's talk about the origin of the set phrase "cold iron" in English! ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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What is the origin of the phrase "play a part/role"?

From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: play a part/role to have an effect or influence on something Does this phrase come from the theater or somewhere else? From thefreedictionary.com: ...
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40 votes
3 answers
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The phrase "do the lions"

I was recently reading an account of Zola's exile in England after the Dreyfus affair and I came across a phrase I couldn't quite parse: That gentleman, as I had surmised, was a trifle astonished at ...
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0 votes
1 answer
126 views

Where did the phrase "jump to conclusions" come from? [closed]

I've been looking for the origin of the phrase "jump to conclusions." I found nothing more than this: The term began to appear in the early 1700s in prints. The Idioms And how different ...
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4 votes
1 answer
113 views

Origin of "spring cleaning"

Some people have traced the origin of spring cleaning to the Iranian New Year, which is on the first day of spring. However, it seems like I can find earlier origins of this. What is the true origin ...
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3 votes
2 answers
718 views

What does it mean "to turn square corners?"

I came across the phrase in this article: And "in this case, the law's terms ensure that, when the federal government seeks a procedural advantage against an individual, it will at least supply ...
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2 votes
3 answers
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A metaphor for people living up or down to their reputation

I have been asked to improve my question. Can anyone help with the full quote and derivation thereof for a metaphor that begins “give a dog a bad name and hear (or see) him bark”? My understanding is ...
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0 votes
0 answers
28 views

What is the original intentional use of the phrase 'systems thinking'?

I have found references in 1963 which seem to be the 'first published that google knows about', but it seems from this that the phrase was in fairly common use by then:see here and here. (see my ...
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2 votes
1 answer
324 views

Origin of ‘for shame’

Collins: you should feel ashamed Why does ‘for shame’ mean that? ‘Shame’ there is easily understandable, but I can’t understand why ‘for’ is used there for that function. Did it originate in a ...
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5 votes
4 answers
849 views

What is the origin of the phrases "stairway to heaven" and "highway to hell"?

Where did these two phrases come from? Why stairway and highway? My own research didn't turn up results on Google that traced the origins of the phrases. I can only speculate (as stated in the ...
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1 answer
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What does 'go through the mill' mean?

I am curious why "go through the mill" means "have had a lot of problems or difficulties".
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0 votes
1 answer
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Is this sentence construction wrong, where "going home" has other implied meaning, the origin and span of which isn't known? [closed]

I stumbled upon this article about the origins of some unusual idioms and phrases, as I have heard many of them being used popularly. But I was bit shocked and frustrated when I read this sentence ...
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4 votes
2 answers
499 views

Origin of phrase 'come on'

Is the origin/first usage of the phrase 'come on' known? I know there is a similar 'kom op' in Dutch (same meaning, as well as a literal translation of the words), but I don't know which took it from ...
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2 votes
2 answers
1k views

What's the origin of the phrase "show true colours?"

I wonder if someone knows the actual origin and oldest printed record of the idiom "show true colours?" Other than this popular theory (seems not real to me): This phrase dates back to the ...
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2 votes
3 answers
447 views

What is the origin of idiom wrap someone in cotton wool?

I am curious to know the exact origin of the idiom "wrap someone in cotton wool." I couldn't find much, except Origin: The expression originated in the mid-1800s. [The Idioms] and Google ...
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6 votes
2 answers
3k views

What is the origin of “crash at someone’s place”?

I know it’s slang. But help me to find origin of crash at someone’s place
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