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Give the pip/get the pip – make unwell or uncomfortable or annoyed – Pip is a disease affecting birds characterised by mucus in the mouth and throat. The expression seems first to have appeared in the 1800s, but given its much older origins could easily have been in use before then. Interestingly while the pip expression refers to the bird disease, the roots of the meaning actually take us full-circle back to human health. The ‘stone pip’ would seem to be a distortion/confusion of simply giving or getting the pip, probably due to misunderstanding the meaning of pip in this context. Pip is derived from the middle English words pipe and pipehed used to refer to the bird disease; these words in turn deriving from the Latin pippita and pipita, from pitwita and pituita, meaning phlegm, and whose root word also gave us pituitary, pertaining to human biology and specifically the pituitary gland.

When they ceased to be of use Wilde added a second cross to their names, and would turn them in to the authorities for the bounty. Another explanation is that it relates to the name of a British intelligence group in World War II, engaged in tricking German spies to defect. Thirdly, and perhaps more feasibly, double cross originates from an old meaning of the word cross, to swindle or fix a horse race, from the 1800s (the term apparently appears in Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’, to describe a fixed horse race). Double cross specifically described the practice of pre-arranging for a horse to lose, but then reneging on the fix and allowing the horse to win. An early alternative meaning of the word ‘double’ itself is is to cheat, and an old expression ‘double double’ meant the same as double cross (Ack Colin Sheffield, who in turn references the Hendrickson’s Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins). This usage is more likely to be a misunderstanding and misuse of an earlier meaning of the ‘black Irish’ expression, based on black meaning angry.

Related to this, from the same Latin root word, and contributing to the slang development, is the term plebescite, appearing in English from Latin via French in the 1500s, referring originally and technically in Roman history to the vote of an electorate – rather like a referendum. Plebescite later acquired wider meaning in English referring to the vote or collective view of the masses, for example recorded in commentary of the (French people’s) popular approval of the 1851 French coup d’état. Partridge Slang additionally cites mid-1800s English origins for pleb, meaning , a tradesman’s son at Westminster College, alongside ‘plebe’, a newcomer at West Point military academy in New York state. The loon bird’s name came into English from a different root, Scandinavia, in the 1800s, and arguably had a bigger influence in the US on the expressions crazy as a loon, and also drunk as a loon. The highly derogatory slang loony bin , referring to a mental home, first appeared around 1910.

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Clergy and clerics and clerks were therefore among the most able and highly respected and valued of all ‘workers’. It is fascinating, and highly relevant in today’s fast-changing world, how the role of clerk/cleric has become ‘demoted’ nowadays into a far more ‘ordinary’ workplace title, positioned at the opposite ‘lower end’ within the typical organizational hierarchy. We can wonder what modern workplace/organizational roles will see similar shift over time, as today’s specialisms become tomorrow’s very ordinary capabilities possessed by everyone. (she was/they were) all over him like a cheap suit – the expression ‘all over him like a cheap suit’ normally refers to a woman being publicly and clingy/seductive/physical/possessive towards a man, where the man does not necessarily desire the attention, and/or where such attention is inappropriate and considered overly physical/intimate/oppressive. The allusion is to the clingy and obvious nature of a cheap suit, likely of a tacky/loud/garish/ tasteless design. The expression is increasingly used more widely in referring to a situation where substantial attention or pressure is being experienced by a person, usually by a man, perhaps from interviewers, photographers, followers, or perhaps investigators. In the case of adulation there may also a suggestion of toadiness or sycophancy .

In a similar vein, women-folk of French fishermen announced the safe return of their men with the expression ‘au quai’ (meaning ‘back in port’, or literally ‘at the quayside’). A similar French derivation perhaps the use of the expression ‘Au Quai’ by cotton inspectors in the French Caribbean when rating the quality of cotton suitable for export. One chap, George Marsh, claimed to have seen the entire Koran on a parchment roll measuring four inches by half and inch. Nickname – an alternative familiar name for someone or something – from ‘an eke name’ which became written ‘a neke name’; ‘eke’ is an extremely old word meaning ‘also’. It was also an old English word for an enlarging section added to the base of a beehive. Mayday – the international radio distress call – used since about 1927 especially by mariners and aviators in peril, mayday is from the French equivalent ‘M’aider’, and more fully ‘Venez m’aider’ meaning ‘Come help me’. Lock, stock and barrel – everything – from the 1700s, based on the metaphor of all of the parts of a gun, namely the lock , the stock and the barrel.

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Whatever, John Heywood and his 1546 ‘Proverbs’ collection can arguably be credited with originating or popularising the interpretation of these sayings into forms that we would recognise today, and for reinforcing their use in the English language. Sweep the board – win everything – based on the metaphor of winning all the cards or money stake in a game of cards. Partridge says first recorded about 1830, but implies the expression could have been in use from perhaps the 1600s. This is certainly possible since board meant table in older times, which is the association with card games played on a table.

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The red-handed image is straightforward enough to have evolved from common speech, that is to say, there’s unlikely to have been one single quote that originated the expression. Keep the pot boiling/potboiler – maintain a productive activity or routine/poor quality novel – these are two old related metaphoric expressions. ‘Keep the pot boiling’ alludes to the need to refuel the fire to keep a food pot boiling, which translates to mean maintain effort/input so as to continue producing/achieving something or other. From and related to this, the separate term ‘potboiler’ has developed, referring to poor quality novels produced quickly and very frequently by writers and publishers, chiefly to maintain a basic level of income, rather than to produce a work of quality. Pansy – the flower of the violet family/effeminate man – originally from the French pensee (technically pensée) meaning a thought, from the verb penser, to think, based on association with the flower’s use for rememberance or souvenir.

The frustration is that reckless leaders and opinion-formers do so little to counsel against this human tendency; instead they fuel schadenfreude at every opportunity. Much of the media industry, in defending their worst and most exploitative output – say they only produce what the public demands, as if this is complete justification for negative excess. Schadenfreude, like other negative human tendencies, is something of a driver in society, which many leaders follow. One day more leaders and publishers will realise that education and positive example are better ways of reacting to human weaknesses. Over a barrel/have someone over a barrel – powerless to resist, at a big disadvantage/have an opponent at a big disadvantage – there are uncertain and perhaps dual origins for this expression, which is first recorded in the late 1800s.

The metaphorical sense of stereotype, referring to a fixed image, developed in English by 1850. The prefix stereo is from Greek stereos, meaning solid or three-dimensional, hence stereophonic, stereogram and stereo records, referring to sound. Nothing to sneeze at/not to be sneezed at – okay, not so bad, passable, nothing to be disliked – the expression was in use late 19thC and probably earlier. 1870 Brewer explains that the expression evolved from the use of the word snuff in a similar sense. ‘Up to snuff’ meant sharp or keenly aware, from the idea of sniffing something or ‘taking it in snuff’ as a way of testing its quality. Shakespeare used the expression more than once in his plays, notably in Love’s Labour’s Lost, “You’ll mar the light by taking it in snuff…” Snuff in this sense is from old Northern European languages such as Dutch and Danish, where respectively snuffen and snofte meant to scent or sniff.