Category Archives: Idiom of the Week

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Idiom of the Week – ‘On tenterhooks’

‘On tenterhooks’ Meaning:In a state of anxious suspense Explanation:Often mispronounced as ‘on tenderhooks’ this phrase derives from the hooks that are used to hold cloth in place on a wooden frame called a tenter. They’re rare now, but were commonly used in previous centuries to prevent woollen items from shrinking. The expression first appears in…

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Idiom of the Week – Great minds think alike

Great minds think alike Meaning: Unusually, this phrase means exactly what it says, that great minds think similarly. Explanation: This proverb derives from the earlier saying “Great wits jump”. ‘Jump’ meant in this context ‘agree’ or ‘coincide’, although this meaning has now fallen out of usage. The first example of the current phrase can be…

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Idiom of the Week – All that glitters is not gold

All that glitters is not gold Meaning: Not everything that appears to have value really does have it. Explanation:This phrase originated in the Middle Ages, with Chaucer’s 1380 poem, The House of Fame including an early version of the line: “Hit is not al gold, that glareth”. By the 16th century it was a proverb,…

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Idiom of the Week – Rob Peter to pay Paul

Rob Peter to pay Paul Meaning: To pay off one debt by incurring another. Explanation: This expression is thought to go as far back as the 1400s, where it appears in an ecclesiastical text. By the time John Heywood’s work on English proverbs was published in 1546, it was a well known saying, and by…

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Idiom of the Week – ‘Elbow-grease’

‘Elbow-grease’ Meaning: Energetic, intensive labour Explanation: First appearing in the late 17th century, this term seems to have been a phrase used by the lower classes to indicate sweat and toil. The poet Andrew Marvel uses it and it appears in the 1699 New Dictionary of the Canting Crew, which documented the language of the…

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Idiom of the Week – ‘Jump the gun’

‘Jump the gun’ Meaning: To start something too soon or act prematurely Explanation:A starter pistol, or gun, is used to start running races. Some athletes begin the race before the judge shot the starter pistol, and that is too early. This expression was used first in 1905. Example: We could book him a seat before…

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Idiom of the Week – ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’

‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ Meaning: Don’t interfere with a stable situation Explanation: The phrase comes from an ancient observation that sleeping dogs are often unpredictable when people wake them. One of its first appearances is in Chaucer’s Troilus and Creseyde in around 1380: “It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake”. Others used the…

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Idiom of the Week – ‘Eat humble pie’

‘Eat humble pie’ Meaning: Admit to an error in an apologetic manner Explanation: This phrase is thought to be derived from the Middle English word for offal, ‘umbles’. Pies filled with offal were often called ‘umble pies’; Samual Pepys makes reference to this in a 17th century text. The word ‘humble’, meaning ‘low ranking’, is…

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