Wednesday, 28 January 2015

not the sharpest knife in the drawer

A humorous euphemism for ‘lacking in intelligence; stupid’

I must admit that I find these euphemisms very humorous, even if they are rather cruel. When I looked up this one, I discovered a web site listing 212 synonyms. These are my favorites:

not the sharpest tool in the shed
dumb as a bag of hammers
elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor
if he had another brain, it would be lonely
not playing with a full deck
any slower and he'd have to be watered twice a week
he’s depriving some village of an idiot

Being a bridge player, of course I'd have to pick "not playing with a full deck" as my top favorite.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

fox guarding the henhouse

This idiom is similar in meaning to ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ It means that someone has made a bad mistake by putting a person in a position where he or she can exploit the situation for his own benefit. What is more: that person likely will exploit the situation, like the fox who can’t help himself drooling over all those delicious chickens.

Here is an example:
“You put your spendthrift brother in charge of managing your inheritance and gave him power of attorney for your account? That is letting the fox guard the henhouse!”

If there’s a fox in the henhouse, you’ve got problems brewing. In other words, it’s no different from having a lunatic in charge of the asylum or asking a thief to guard the bank vault, or asking a monkey to watch your bananas. They all mean that the watcher can’t be trusted to do the right job.

The phrase is mentioned in the Bible, And before the Bible, it was a Latin saying which, in turn, translates into “to set a wolf to guard sheep.”  Whether the expression has to do with foxes and hens, or wolves and sheep, this confirms that the saying originated in Ancient Rome.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

wolf in sheep's clothing

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is someone who hides malicious intent under the guise of kindliness. In other words, playing a role contrary to their true character.

Both Aesop's Fables and the Bible contain explicit references to wolves in sheep's clothing. Presumably Aesop must have originated the phrase, as his tales are much older than any biblical text. Aesop (620–560 BC) is credited with creating the fables that bear his name and, whether he was the author or not, they are certainly pre-Christian.

The King James Version of the Bible, 1611, gives this warning in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

The tale is told by the 12th century Greek rhetorician Nikephoros Basilakis in a work called Progymnasmata. The story goes as follows:

“A wolf once decided to change his nature by changing his appearance, and thus get plenty to eat. He put on a sheepskin and accompanied the flock to the pasture. The shepherd was fooled by the disguise. When night fell, the shepherd shut up the wolf in the fold with the rest of the sheep and, as the fence was placed across the entrance, the sheepfold was securely closed off. But when the shepherd wanted a sheep for his supper, he took his knife and killed the wolf.” 

The conclusion drawn is different from the Gospel story. In the former one is warned to beware of hypocritical evil-doers; Nikephoros warns that evil-doing carries its penalty.

The wolf must have been pretty hot under all that wool.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

in one fell swoop

The phrase simply means a fierce, sudden onslaught, the kind a hawk might make when swooping down on a defenseless small animal. 'Fell' is a word rarely used and has no connection with 'fall.' This 'fell' comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'fel,' which means fierce or deadly. This word is also where we get 'felon,' a person guilty of a major crime. 

I like to use the term ‘one swell foop’ sometimes, which is, of course, just a spoonerism for ‘one fell swoop.’

A spoonerism is an error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched between two words in a phrase. While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue resulting from unintentionally getting one's tongue in a tangle, they can also be used intentionally as a play on words.

– "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" rather than "dear old queen" which is a       reference to Queen Victoria)
– "Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?" as opposed to "customary to kiss"

Swell Foop is the title of a novel by Piers Anthony. It is also the name of a board game.

And, in one fell swoop of my index finger on the left mouse button, I will now post this to the Internet, and go have my breakfast.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

nuts and bolts

The practical facts, or essentials, or fundamentals, about a particular thing, rather than theories or ideas about it. As an example, “When it came to the nuts and bolts of running a business, he was clearly unable to cope.”

The only theory I could find as to the source of this idiom is that it came from farmers. Farmers quite often work on their own machinery. When they tear a piece of equipment down, they have to keep track of the nuts and bolts so they can put it back together. It was a long trip to town to try to find a new bolt or nut.

The idiom is used in many ways. Nuts and bolts hold machinery together. Without them the machine will not work. A university course will be useless if its basic essentials are left out. Language will not work without the nuts and bolts of nouns and verbs.

The term is also used for a mixture of cereals, crackers and nuts. But that’s a whole different snack!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross

Common modern versions include:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

This was a popular nursery rhyme before the twentieth century, and may still be heard in England, where it arose.

It’s not known when the verse originated. A medieval date had been argued on the grounds that the bells refer to the fashion of wearing bells on the ends of shoes in the fifteenth century. Similarly, the main Banbury Cross was taken down around 1600, but other crosses were present in the town and, as is often the case, the place may have retained the name, so that is not proof of antiquity either.

A "cock horse" can mean a high-spirited horse, or the additional horse to assist pulling a cart or carriage up a hill. It can also mean an uncastrated horse. From the mid-sixteenth century it also meant a pretend hobby horse or an adult's knee.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015


From The Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Day: (thanks to the Passive Voice)
nuppence, n.
. . . .
No money; nothing.
. . . .
1886 A. Lang in Longman’s Mag. Mar. 551 The Americans can get our books, and do get them, and republish them and give us nothing—that awful minus quantity, ‘nuppence’!

1964 Observer 20 Sept. 27/7 Living on nuppence.

I love it! Instead of saying, "I wouldn't give you tuppence for that," I can say, "I wouldn't give you nuppence for that!"

But there's a catch. If I wouldn't give you nothing, then what WOULD I give you?