Questions tagged [phrase-origin]

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

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2 answers
28k views

What's the origin of "I'm down with it"?

I understand it's an expression of agreement. What exactly does it mean and where did it originate from?
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27 votes
7 answers
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Etymology of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs'?

This is such a strange idiom, all I could find with a Google search was the meaning of it, but not where it came from. When you're telling somebody something they already know well, it's sometimes ...
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52 votes
5 answers
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Usage and origin of "sister" in expressions like "sister company, sister ship, sister site" etc

The term sister is often used figuratively to refer, for instance, to a “sister company” for a company within the same group, or to a “sister site” for sites that belong to the same family. This ...
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22 votes
4 answers
15k views

Origin of "he's 6 feet tall if he's an inch"

I have heard this pattern used before in American English: She's 6 feet tall if she's an inch. It was a gallon of blood if it was a drop. The baby was 10 pounds if it was an ounce. I assume that it ...
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28 votes
4 answers
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Origin of the idiom "go south"

What's the origin of the idiom go south? Why is it go south only? Why not go southwest or go east? Are the direction-related idioms go south, go north, go east, and go west correlated? Example, go ...
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7 votes
6 answers
34k views

expression "caught between a rock and a hard place"

What is the origin and definition of the expression "caught between a rock and a hard place"? I also heard it in a situation where it could have had a jocose double sense, but I may have misunderstood....
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56 votes
6 answers
126k views

"jury-rigged", or "jerry-rigged"

As far back as I can remember, the usage went something like "Their jury was rigged, and that's how he got away." Or, "They Jerry-rigged the controller at the last moment and it worked!" I used to ...
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3 votes
2 answers
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What is the origin of the phrase "not to mention ..."

Of course whatever follows would seem to be precisely the thing that isn't to be mentioned. EDIT: I'm assuming that the phrase must have evolved from something more complete/cumbersome, like "and of ...
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12 votes
10 answers
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Why is "taking a biscuit" a bad thing in the UK?

So, I'm reading up on a list of English Idioms and I see two that bear a striking similarity. "Take the biscuit (UK): To be particularly bad, objectionable, or egregious. "Take the cake (US)": To ...
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3 votes
2 answers
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Origin of the term "fun fact"

Where does the term "fun fact" originate?-- namely, not with the compositional meaning but rather with the idiomatic usage to introduce some sort of unusual, esoteric, absurd or otherwise "...
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8 votes
3 answers
35k views

"bibs and bobs" - what does it mean and where does it come from?

Just exactly what is a bibs and a bobs? And where the heck did that expression come from, anyway?
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6 votes
2 answers
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Quote unquote (or end-quote), unseparated by the actual quotation

In spoken English, people often say "quote-unquote" (or "quote-endquote") to indicate that part of what they are saying is a quotation (scare or otherwise). Sometimes the quoted material will go ...
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37 votes
3 answers
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Origin of "ballpark estimate" to mean a very rough estimate?

I'm wondering where the term "ballpark estimate" comes from? Sometimes "ballpark" is said stand-alone to mean a rough estimate, as in "these numbers are a ballpark". I understand it must come from ...
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20 votes
4 answers
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What is the origin of the phrase ‘By the by...’?

What is the origin of the phrase 'By the by...'?
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18 votes
3 answers
9k views

What is the origin and meaning of "to be a square"?

I read an answer on another question where the answer was 'square' as opposed to 'not hip'. E.g. "Don't be a square!" I have always been under the impression that the term came about because you are ...
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12 votes
4 answers
38k views

Origin of "Well, well, well. What do we have here?"

Google will not tell me where this phrase originates. Does Stack Exchange have the answer?
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8 votes
4 answers
328k views

Origin of the idiom "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts"?

I’m interested in the origin of the idiom: If "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas. When was it first used? Is this the original idiom, or was there an older ...
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6 votes
2 answers
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What is the origin of the phrase "pay attention"?

If this were a "modern" phrase, you could (perhaps) justify it based on psychological science, related to the usage of energy by brain activity, including putting attention into something. As such "...
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18 votes
6 answers
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Researching the real origin of SNAFU

I know the wiki origin puts SNAFU as appearing during WWII as the first in a long line of military slang, BUT, years ago I recollect reading in an electronics magazine, likely 'Wireless World' from 60'...
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14 votes
4 answers
31k views

Why does one scream blue murder?

To scream blue murder is to shout loudly and make a huge fuss, sometimes with the implication that the fuss is excessive. But does anyone know why murder should be blue?
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13 votes
3 answers
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The conflicting origin of a “piece of cake”

Finding the precise history of the idiom, a piece of cake, is no picnic as I discovered. According to the websites: The idioms.com and Bloomsbury International (a British language school), its ...
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12 votes
5 answers
4k views

Where does the term "cold calling" originate from?

Did it exist before The Telephone - has it always been associated with 'sales'? Here is an example.
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11 votes
9 answers
35k views

Why is it called an “Indian file”?

I recently came across a US phrase, Indian file. This is utterly unheard of in the UK, and probably outside North America; at least I’ve certainly never heard of it. The phrase would be expressed in ...
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8 votes
6 answers
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Why do we use the phrase 'Across the pond'?

Why do we use the phrase Across the pond to refer to the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean? Considering the size of the Atlantic Ocean is vast, is it suggesting the ocean is only a small hindrance? ...
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18 votes
7 answers
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Origin of the expression "Dead to rights"?

I was watching a TV show and this term was used. I am familiar with the definition, but I was wondering the origin of the phrase. It does not make sense to me if taken literally. Reference
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27 votes
8 answers
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Where did the expression "my two cents" come from?

I've seen "$.02", "2¢", "just my two cents", etc, similar in meaning to IMHO, except usually appended to the main text. As the Ngram shows, it is only "two cents" that is popular in this usage: How ...
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94 votes
16 answers
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"Soccer mom": why soccer?

...why not football mom, baseball mom, or basketball mom? Soccer mom, as far as I can tell, is an American term made popular during the 1996 presidential elections, used to describe a key demographic ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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On professional bias

The well-known expression professional bias appears to date back to the very first years when professions started to exist: "Professional bias" designates a mental conditioning brought ...
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4 votes
4 answers
36k views

Origin of "Rose tinted glasses"?

On another SE site I frequent, in a question a non-native English speaker used "pink glasses" where they clearly meant the idiom "rose tinted" or "rose coloured" glasses. The meaning of "looking ...
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19 votes
5 answers
22k views

"Pretty please with sugar on top"

Where does this expression come from? I understand when it's used, but I was wondering about its origin.
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16 votes
3 answers
6k views

Origin and usage of "copypasta"

The internet slang term copypasta is a recent coinage and means: The term copypasta refers to a block of text which is repeatedly copied and pasted by individuals over various online forums and ...
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13 votes
10 answers
49k views

The meaning and the origins of "everything's gone pear-shaped."

I've recently heard this phrase spoken twice on a British television show, and I assume it means something along the lines of, "everything's fallen apart," generally meaning, things are bad right now. ...
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12 votes
6 answers
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Origin of "as useful as a chocolate teapot / fireguard"

I ran across the expression "as useful as a chocolate teapot" (or sometimes a fireguard) which is apparently used to denote the utter uselessness of something. It received some coverage on Language ...
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8 votes
5 answers
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How has the meaning of "politically correct" changed?

According to Etymology Online, politically correct means ...the political movement and phenomenon, which began in the USA, with the aim to enforce a set of ideologies and views on gender, race and ...
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8 votes
5 answers
805 views

J. Oliver's usage of the word 'bog'

I have a question about the usage of the word 'bog' in the following sentence: Bog standard scoops of ice cream etc I understand that the meaning is 'form'; nevertheless, this is the first time I ...
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7 votes
4 answers
9k views

The exact sense and origin of "to stick it to someone"

From a blogpost at BBC, Did internet kill the radio star? David Lowery, lead singer for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, tells the BBC that illegal sharing of music files is sticking ...
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6 votes
5 answers
25k views

Where did the term "Your Obedient Servant" originate?

In political letters throughout history, the closing "Your Obedient Servant" appears many times (For example, president Lincoln uses it in all of his letters). Where and how did this phrase originate ...
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5 votes
4 answers
209k views

What is the origin and meaning of the phrase “bane of my existence”?

A friend recently used the phrase bane of my existence, and while I’m familiar with the phrase, I would like to know its origin and meaning.
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1 vote
1 answer
12k views

Origin of the terms "curse words" and "swear words"

I'm having trouble finding the origin of the terms "curse words" and "swear words" when used as a synonym what many call "bad words" (although I don't agree). I've found that "curses" when used as an ...
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20 votes
4 answers
23k views

What's the reason for calling cheap seats at the theatre nosebleed seats?

I've never heard of this idiom before today and thought it was an especially curious one. What's the origin of calling the cheap seats the nosebleed seats at the theater?
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16 votes
4 answers
43k views

Where does the idiom "beating around the bush" come from?

Where does the idiom "beating around the bush" come from?
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10 votes
6 answers
90k views

Why do we say that one can "talk the hind legs off a donkey"?

Unlike this questioner, I'm not asking what my phrase means (in case anyone doesn't know and can't guess, it means to talk incessantly). But I don't know anything at all significant about donkeys' ...
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7 votes
2 answers
3k views

"Can't help but think": origin and current meaning

The regular English-language column in this week's Spectator (by one 'Dot Wordsworth') examines the opaque but not uncommon construction "I can't help but be reminded of the relationship...", which ...
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6 votes
4 answers
11k views

When and how did we start getting "off the dime"?

In American English, for a long time we've had the idiom "to stop on a dime." It means to stop abruptly and completely. It came to be used as a description for something agile or nimble. ...
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4 votes
5 answers
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Where does the expression "A little birdie told me" come from?

I see and hear this over and over again, and I have not the slightest idea where it comes from.
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3 votes
4 answers
3k views

When did "I could care less" (rather than "I couldn't care less") become popular?

What decade? Any particular reason? This is an etymological/historical question, not a grammar question.
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3 votes
2 answers
6k views

What is the origin of "man on the spot"?

What is the origin of "man on the spot" ? The Free Dictionary defines on the spot and uses as an example man on the spot. on the spot - at the place in question; there; "they were on the spot ...
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1 vote
2 answers
262 views

History of ‘smile one's thanks’

I'm interested to know when the actual phrase smile one's thanks was first registered in the English language, as well as smile agreement and nod agreement.
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112 votes
5 answers
322k views

"Here's looking at you, kid" meaning?

I'm sure many will know Rick's famous line from the film Casablanca: Here's looking at you, kid. While I can guess at it, I was never fully confident about the meaning of this phrase. I am not a ...
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  • 1,089
52 votes
7 answers
584k views

What is the origin of the phrase "Top of the morning to you"?

Each morning, a colleague of mine greets me with the phrase: Top of the morning to you! I've tried to figure out what the meaning of this really is and how to properly respond, however there seems ...
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