Idiom

Fair dinkum

Fair dinkum means fair play, genuine, fair dinkum is sometimes used as a question to confirm the truth or genuineness of something. A fair-dinkum Aussie is an Australian who demonstrates the nation’s values. Dinkum first appears in England in the nineteenth century, meaning honest toil. When miners brought the word to Australia in the late 1800s, fair was added to create the term fair dinkum, extending the meaning to honesty or fair play. Fair dinkum is now primarily used in …

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Mad as a hatter

Mad as a hatter means absolutely crazy. The most famous illustration of the phrase mad as a hatter occurs in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with the character the Mad Hatter. In the nineteenth century, milliners or hatmakers used mercury in the processing of hats, and many succumbed to mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning may cause mood swings, aggressiveness and other unpleasant social behaviors. The first printed occurence of mad as a hatter is 1835, though many believe that mad …

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An arm and a leg

The term an arm and a leg means an extreme amount of money, tremendously expensive. Cost an arm and a leg, pay an arm and a leg, worth an arm and a leg, are all valid phrases describing the buying and selling of an article that costs the consumer a dear price. An arm and a leg seems to have first appeared in America after World War II, presumably in reference to the many returning soldiers with amputated limbs. Many …

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Read the riot act

To read someone the riot act means to sternly tell them to behave well, to demand good behavior and warn them of dire consequences if they do not stop what they are doing. The term read the riot act has its origins in an actual law called the Riot Act which was enacted in Britain in 1714.  According to the law, if a crowd of twelve or more people showed signs of becoming unruly, the local authority would ask them …

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Shake a leg

Shake a leg is an idiom which means to hurry up, to get going. Shake a leg is usually used as an imperative, which is a form of grammar that is a command or request. The first use of shake a leg to mean hurry up is found in the New York Magazine in 1904.  The origins of the phrase shake a leg are murky, though there are claims that the term comes from the American Civil War, when after …

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Knuckle down and buckle down

Knuckle down is a phrase which means to get serious about a task, to work diligently on a task or problem. Knuckle down is a term derived from the game of marbles, it first appears in the mid-1860s in American English. One puts a knuckle to the ground to assume the shooting position in marbles, thus the term knuckle down. Buckle down is a phrase which means to get serious about a task, to work diligently on a task or …

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Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is a large, obvious, and important thing that no one wants to address because the problem is uncomfortable. The elephant in the room is an American phrase with murky origins, the first reference being in 1935 to mean something obvious and incongruous. In the 1950s, the elephant in the room came to mean what it means today, something enormous that people choose to ignore because it is uncomfortable to deal with. An interesting example of ignoring …

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Cross the line

To cross the line means to overstep a boundary, to go beyond socially accepted behavior. When one crosses the line, one goes from being acceptable to being unacceptable. One may cross the line by asking questions that are too personal, by acting outside the rules, or or giving in to temptation. Someone who has crossed the line has displayed behavior that is offensive. Related terms are crosses the line, crossed the line and crossing the line. According to Google’s Ngram, …

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Dingo’s breakfast

Dingo’s breakfast has recently been added to the Oxford English dictionary. Dingo’s breakfast is an Australian phrase that actually means no breakfast at all. A dingo’s breakfast originated with stories of the Australian swaggy, or transient worker, who crossed the land looking for work to pay for his next meal, often he was without provisions in the morning. Just like the dingo who lived on a subsistence diet, the swaggy would rise and find nothing to eat, so his “breakfast” …

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The jig is up and the game is up

The jig is up is a phrase which means the plot has been foiled, the deception has been seen through, the game is over. A jig is an energetic dance, but during Elizabethan times jig also came to mean a trick or a practical joke. Therefore, when the jig is up it means that the practical joke has been exposed. Interestingly, the first example of the phrase the jig is up comes from a Philadelphia, PA newspaper dated 1800, though …

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