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78 votes
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Is it technically correct to call an almond drink "milk" in English?

English speakers have been calling white liquids “milk” since Old English. But please don’t drink spurge milk (i.e. its white, latex-like sap), since it’s poisonous: Wið weartan genim þysse ylcan ...
Laurel's user avatar
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76 votes
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What did "pop a cap" mean, other than "shoot someone," in the 19th century?

What is a cap anyways? A "cap", in the firearms sense, is the ignition source for the gunpowder. These were used in the days before firearms that used "modern" cartridges ...
Hot Licks's user avatar
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72 votes

Has 'fat chance' always been used sarcastically or was it once a factual term?

I found a few early instances where the use seems to refer to a significant chance, or even an exorbitant or undeserved opportunity, but this intended meaning appears to be rare and was rapidly ...
RaceYouAnytime's user avatar
55 votes

"Cheaper by the dozen" phrase origin?

Using Eighteenth Century Collections Online, I found this note at the end of an anti-Catholic pamphlet titled A Protestant's Revolution (Dublin, 1734), where other pamphlets by the same publisher ("S. ...
TaliesinMerlin's user avatar
51 votes
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"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" -- meaning?

The point is that Sigmund Freud supposedly saw sexual references in everything. If you are not familiar with the ideas of Freud, or with the associations people have with Freud, the quote doesn't mean ...
oerkelens's user avatar
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50 votes
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The phrase "do the lions"

The expression is quite old as a term for sightseeing, and appears to have originated in the form "see the lions." J.S. Farmer & W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present (...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
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49 votes

Does the telecommunication “last mile” derive from the jail “last mile”?

I doubt the telecommunications usage of "last mile" has much to do with the figurative usage you cite. The original telecommunications use of the "last mile" is very concrete: It's the pair of ...
hmakholm left over Monica's user avatar
45 votes
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Country names ending in "-ia"

-ia is a Latin ending (-ία in Ancient Greek) used to form abstract nouns. In this case, the "abstract" noun referred to a nation, that is, a collection of people and the locations where they lived. ...
Mark Beadles's user avatar
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45 votes
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How many birds in the bush?

There have always been “two birds in the bush” I did not find any references that showed there ever being more than two birds, possibly nestling, in a shrub. However, some claim that the version with ...
Mari-Lou A's user avatar
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42 votes
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What is the origin of "don't punch a gift horse in the mouth"?

By far the earliest match for "punch a gift horse" in Google Books search results is from a 1972 issue of National Lampoon, a U.S. satirical magazine that grew out of The Harvard Lampoon, a ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
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38 votes

Usage and origin of "sister" in expressions like "sister company, sister ship, sister site" etc

'Brother company' - or 'brother (anything)' - would almost certainly be considered incorrect (in English). There's no logical reason why it should be incorrect, only historical. You're right that the ...
Michael's user avatar
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38 votes

What sparked the figurative usage of “short fuse” in the 1960s?

"Short fuse" was used metaphorically before the 60s Here's an example that seems to be exactly matching the modern sense: The Navy must needs cross the water and protect our interest, hence ...
Laurel's user avatar
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38 votes

Origin of the phrase "crazy as a coon"—is it racist?

'Coon' similes in mid-nineteenth-century U.S. English Raccoons are notoriously clever and dexterous animals that many farmers view (or once viewed) as varmints. In the nineteenth century, a number of ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
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36 votes
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What is the origin of the minced oath “Jiminy”?

From Hugh Rawson, A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk (1981): Jiminy Cricket. The cute Walt Disney character notwithstanding, this is a euphemism for "Jesus Christ," on a par ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
  • 166k
35 votes

What is the origin of the saying “Chop chop suey suey”?

Perhaps your dad added the "suey suey" part on his own, maybe for humorous effect? Wikipedia and The Phrase Finder both talk about the etymology of chop chop, meaning "hurry up" or ...
J.R.'s user avatar
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35 votes

Origin of the expression "Independent as a pig on ice."

Elizabeth Fais has a blog post titled "Confounding Colloquialisms: Expressions that make you go, 'What?'" in which she discusses the phrase: “As Independent as a Hog on Ice” Flailing About ...
Jason Bassford's user avatar
32 votes

The Etymology of “husband’s tea”

The OED entry is instructive. Whilst it confirms the expression is obsolete (though I vaguely remember having heard it in my lifetime), I think the example given from 1877 comes as close as anything ...
WS2's user avatar
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30 votes

What is the origin of the term "cone of shame"?

I found a reference that predates the Up movie by a good eight years, although I'm sure there must be older usages out there somewhere. In a 2001 Usenet post to the alt.fashion newsgroup, user ...
shoover's user avatar
  • 1,905
29 votes

Why is "taking a biscuit" a bad thing in the UK?

N.B. Below is an image of the American dish, biscuits with gravy. Note that a biscuit in the US is similar to a scone, a type of cake. Photo: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table This is what British ...
Mari-Lou A's user avatar
  • 91.9k
29 votes

What is the origin of "playing into someone's hands"?

According to this tumblr post, playing into someone's hands originates from card playing: This expression has its origin in card playing. A part of the game’s strategy is to force your opponent to ...
Justin's user avatar
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28 votes
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Origin of the term "red cent"

The "Indian head penny" was first minted in 1859: From Wikipedia However, it's clear that the term was being used well before the design was even conceived: THE OLD “RED CENT” OF THE ...
Laurel's user avatar
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28 votes
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Origin of "It's a fair cop"

Green’s Dictionary of Slang dates its usage from the late 19th century; fair in the sense of justifiable: [late 19C+] (orig. UK Und.): a justifiable arrest; usu. in the tongue-in-cheek phr. it’s a ...
user 66974's user avatar
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28 votes
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Phrase origin: "You ain't got to go home but you got to get out of here."

Though made popular by the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic in the ’90s the expression appears to have originated a few decades earlier as it was probably just what bartenders used to say to clients ...
user 66974's user avatar
  • 67.5k
28 votes

Origin and grammaticality of "I like me ..."

The phrasing is grammatical within the dialects that use it but seldom used in published writing. Scholar Lawrence Horn, in a paper on the subject (1), calls this usage the "personal dative" ...
TaliesinMerlin's user avatar
26 votes
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What is "roots and hacks"?

Those two words are normally found together when you talk about accessing internals of mobile OS (operating system: Android or iOS etc.). Also, just to make it clear, it is not a phrase or an idiom. ...
Ubi.B's user avatar
  • 5,124
25 votes

Has 'fat chance' always been used sarcastically or was it once a factual term?

The first attestation of the phrase 'fat chance' I found is somewhat problematic, being in the 1778 (second) edition of Helenore; or, The fortunate shepherdess: a poem in the broad Scotch dialect, by ...
JEL's user avatar
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25 votes
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What is a "work wife"?

According to the following article the idea of using terminology typical of marriage relationship dates back to the ‘30s. But the terms work wife/husband are relatively recent and date to the ...
user 66974's user avatar
  • 67.5k
25 votes

"Cheaper by the dozen" phrase origin?

The earliest variant of the phrase I could verify in print was 'cheaper in the dozen', from an article in the Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) of 24 May 1790 (paywalled, emphasis mine): In ...
JEL's user avatar
  • 32.9k
24 votes

Origin of "skin in the game"

The earliest usage I can track down is a quote in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article, by an IBM executive (just a few months earlier than the quote @Xanne found in the NYT, also about IBM)1: [...
1006a's user avatar
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