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Archive for July, 2010

Cross Your Fingers

Posted by Admin on July 30, 2010

The expression “cross your fingers” comes with the superstition that keeping your fingers crossed keeps evil and bad luck away from the person crossing their fingers.

However, there are some people who will try to tell you that if you cross your fingers when you lie, the lie doesn’t count.  So just how old is this expression and where did it come from originally?

In 1912, Ella Mary Leather published a book entitled The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire: Collected from Oral and Printed Sources that stated:

The ill-luck supposed to follow a passage beneath a ladder may be averted by crossing the fingers and thumbs.”

In 1924, the year of the  1924 American Presidential Election, the Ladies’ Home Journal ran an article that contained this interesting phrase:

This is the year to keep your fingers crossed and announce yourself from Missouri.”

That being said, the earliest reference found that relates to crossing one’s fingers was found in the book The Outdoor Handy Book by Daniel Carter Beard published in 1900 that states:

“. . . they call it ‘King’s Cross,’ ‘King’s X,’ ‘King’s Excuse,’ and cross the first and second fingers to proclaim a truce. Here we have a combination of the king and the church that insures the safety of the player.”

And now you know why if you’ve been caught dead to rights and red-handed with your hand in the cookie jar, a slap on the wrist won’t come about because of crossed fingers.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Slap On The Wrist

Posted by Admin on July 29, 2010

Since the 18th century the word “slap” was used figuratively as well as literally to mean an attack, slur, censure or reproof, either written or spoken. 

The Oxford English Dictionary  traces the phrase “slap on the wrist” to 1914 and defines it as “a  mild rebuke or criticism.”  So a slap on the wrist is a nominal or token punishment which may or may not be appropriate for the crime committed.

All you can do is cross your fingers and hope that if you get a slap on the wrist, it will be because you got caught red-handed with your hand in the cookie jar.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hand In The Cookie Jar

Posted by Admin on July 28, 2010

The phrase “hand in the cookie jar” refers to being observed or apprehended for a theft of money or other valuable items from the rightful owner who is unaware of the fact that he or she is the victim of theft.

Although there is no exact date for when people began to keep money and valuables in cookie jars, the phrase became popular in America during World War II.

The term “cookie jar accounting” was coined in the late 90s in America and pertains to a certain business practice of storing up profits from good years to create a reserve which can be used to increase profits in bad years.

As technology continues to advance, the cookie jar on a computer is an area of memory set aside for storing digital cookies.  Programs can detect specific information by searching the contents of the jar.  If this is done without the consent of the owner of the computer by unauthorized individuals or businesses and it is traced back to the individual or the business, the individual or business has been caught with his/her/their “hand in the cookie jar.”

This sort of illegal behaviour may lead to serious criminal charges or it could lead to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Admin on July 27, 2010

This expression means an individual has been caught in the act of committing a crime. Its original meaning is to be caught after having stabbed someone, where the perpetrator still has blood on his or her hands.

“Red-handed” dates back to the Scottish Acts of Parliament of James I in 1432 and is referred to at that time as “red-hand.”   “Red-hand” appears in print many times in Scottish legal proceedings from that point on. 

Sir George Mackenzie’s essay entitled A Discourse Upon The Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal which was published in 1674 states:

If he be not taken red-hand, the sheriff cannot proceed against him.”

In Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe published in 1819, the shift from “red-hand” to “red-handed” was made:

I did but tie one fellow, who was taken redhanded and in the fact, to the horns of a wild stag.”

You may want to remember this word the next time you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead To Rights

Posted by Admin on July 26, 2010

Although the phrase “dead to rights” was first published in the Vocabulum or The Rogue’s Lexicon by George Matsell in 1859, the history of the phrase can be split in two to explain how the phrase came to be.

Dead” is a slang use of the word that means “absolutely and without doubt”  and dates back to the 16th century England.  The phrase “to rights” has been used since the 14th century in England to mean “in a proper manner” or “in proper condition or order.”

So when someone has been caught “dead to rights” what’s happened is that they’ve been caught red-handed in the act of committing a crime or making a mistake.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

She’s A Pip

Posted by Admin on July 23, 2010

The phrase “she’s a pip” can have both a negative and a positive connotation which sometimes causes confusion when the person using the phrase doesn’t provide additional clues as to how the phrase should be interpreted.

In the 1400s, the chief feeling of irritation or annoyance was a ‘pip.’  The word was derived from the  Middle Dutch word pippe which was derived from the Vulgar Latin word pippita which was derived from the Latin word pituita which literally means phlegm.  If the phrase is used in a derogatory manner, this is the origin of the phrase.

However, if the phrase is used in a complimentary fashion, we must travel back to 1797 where ‘pip‘ was something that was perceived as being singularly extraordinary of  its kind.  If one said of a female he or she knew that she was ‘a pip” it meant that the person in question was a one-of-a-kind, excellent person in the speaker’s opinion.

The word “pip” was a common word in England at the beginning of the 20th century, it was, and still is, used to signify the letter “p” in military communications by telephone or radio.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

White Lies

Posted by Admin on July 22, 2010

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the phrase “white lies” is from 1741.  One can indeed find the phrase in The Gentleman’s Magazine edition of December 19, 1741 in an article entitled “Of Lies, White and Black.”  The article states in part:

A certain Lady of the highest Quality … makes a judicious Distinction between a white Lie and a black Lie. A white Lie is That which is not intended to injure any Body in his Fortune, Interest, or Reputation but only to gratify a garrulous Disposition and the Itch of amusing People by telling Them wonderful Stories.

However, in 1517, Martin Luther referred to lies of necessity as white lies and he stated that as such, white lies were not permissable and were, without a doubt, a sin because white lies breached the Ninth Commandment.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Blues

Posted by Admin on July 21, 2010

Washington Irving is credited with having first used the term “the blues” in 1807, as a synonym for melancholy:

“He conducted his harangue with a sigh, and I saw he was still under the influence of a whole legion of the blues.”

His usage was a shortening of the phrase “the blue devils” which was a synonym that goes back to at least Elizabethan times to describe a baleful presence.

That being said, the word “blue” was used by Chaucer in his poem,  Complaint of Mars — a transitional work that finds its fulfillment in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — to represent woe.  The poem itself was written some time between 1375 and 1385. 

The idiom was reinforced by the belief that anxiety and sadness produced a blue cast to the skin of those individuals affected by sadness that lingers.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

After All Is Said And Done

Posted by Admin on July 20, 2010

George William (“A. E.”) Russell wrote and published a poem in 1913, entitled Epilogue wherein the phrase “after all is said and done” was contained in the first stanza of the poem.

Well, when all is said and done
Best within my narrow way
May some angel of the sun
Muse memorial o’er my clay.

In the William and Mary Quarterly magazine of 1916, there is a reference to James Rumsey in the book Letters of James Rumsey, Inventor of the Steamboat having used the phrase in 1792.  It was also recorded in 1560 according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms but there was no mention of who published this phrase at that time.

But the phrase is far older than that, going back to Aesop (ca. 620 – 564 BC), the pre-eminent teller of fables.  It’s the moral of his fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” the moral being:

After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

After The Fact

Posted by Admin on July 19, 2010

The use of the phrase “after the fact” as it relates to crimes dates from the first half of the 1500s. 

The word became standard in British law and was first recorded in 1769 in the phrase “accessories after the fact” referring to persons who assisted a lawbreaker after a crime had been committed.

I suppose it’s almost criminal that this entry is so brief however should I unearth more information on the phrase, I promise to add it after the fact.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »