Forum home The potting shed

English language



  • Joyce21Joyce21 Posts: 15,489

    The early bird catches the worm.

    SW Scotland
  • pbffpbff Posts: 433

    I hope you didn't burn dinner while musing on all this Philippa! image

    It kept me thinking last night, after I'd gone home.

    I watched The Hairy Bikers cooking in Sardinia, after I'd had dinner myself and when they stayed with some shepherds, I thought "There's another - A wolf in sheep's clothing - the origin of which is uncertain as to whether it first made an appearance in Aesop's fables or The Bible. The first time it is known to have been put in print in English is in John Wycliffe's translation of The Bible in 1382, apparently.

    Then when they went out with the tuna fishermen, there was "Like a fish out of water".

    After that I kept thinking of more:

    As slippery as an eel - meaning elusive or devious it apparently first made an appearance in 1412.

    Having a face like a bucket of eels - I haven't met anyone else who knows of this simile.

    Open a can of worms - believed to have had it's origin with fishermen.

    As snug as a bug in a rug - alluding to a moth larva comfortable in a carpet, first recorded in 1769.

    Hiding your head in the sand - people viewing ostriches grazing on the plains from a distance away mistakenly believed that the ostriches were hiding their heads in the sand and we ended up with this phrase.

    As sick as a parrot - One article gives this as its origin:  "The phrase was originated by the dramatist Aphra Behn in her 1682 comedy, The False Count, in which the maid Jacinta says of her mistress Julia (Iii1), "Lord, Madam, you are as melancholy as a sick Parrot." ... It is for this reason that the phrase is used to expresses a feeling of disappointment rather than one of nausea". Other articles give other origins.

    Don't count your chickens before they have hatched

    Don't put all your eggs in one basket

    As proud as a peacock

    As silly as a goose

    As lively/as merry as a cricket

    Like a bear with a sore head/throat/butt -  everyone seems to use a different version.

    A cat on hot bricks/hot tin roof - apparently "like a cat on a hot bake-stone" was an earlier version featturing in John Ray's Proverbs of 1678.

    A shaggy dog story

    Feeling sluggish 

    Travelling at a snail's pace

    Snail Mail

    (Well I had to get some gastropods in somewhere, didn't I?image)

    Having the brain of a woodlouse - I've never heard of this phrase outside my own family, but I've often thought that it might be classed as derogatory to woodlice, since they are probably more sensible than some of the people that the phrase has been applied to!image


    Last edited: 12 January 2018 09:33:45

  • pbffpbff Posts: 433

    Often it's best to "let sleeping dogs lie", but sometimes you just have to "take the bull by the horns"!image

  • Joyce21Joyce21 Posts: 15,489

    or be as snug as a bug in a rug.

    SW Scotland
  • B3B3 Posts: 15,505

    But Joyce, the second mouse gets the cheese.

    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • Dog tired, dogging my heels, have the black dog. Happy as cows in clover

    The one I know (and even use sometimes!) is 'Hell's bell and buckets of blood'!

  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    In the North East of England all of the above were part of every day Language, a couple that always made me smile came from working on machinery among women at an early age.

    She has her knickers in a knot? some one who cannot understand what is going on. She came to work with her bra on back to front? some one with a Cob on or otherwise in a bad temper. She got out of bed the wrong side this morning? again in a temper or otherwise befuddled. Built like a brick toilet? always referring to a woman who was sturdily built.

    Two short planks I believe came from the riveters shipbuilding. In the days before H&S you worked along the hull of a boat off a skimpy scaffold carrying your own planks to stand on and knock the rivets down, that was more so in the days of hand hammering rivets down but I saw them working at hight without handrails, they thought them cissy. Many outsiders thought the riveters who worked in teams were Japanese, you would hear the call, "hoyahammerourere" (throw your hammer over here) as they knocked down left or right handed.

    Every day language was to do with shipbuilding, walking on decks, the floor. Hit the deck running, get a move on, in the bilges, gone to the toilet. It is no wonder people come up here and think they are in a foreign country.


    Last edited: 12 January 2018 10:08:23

  • pbffpbff Posts: 433

    Some Italian animal-related phrases that I found:

    Ubriaco come una scimmia - meaning "Drunk as a monkey".

    Trattare a pesci in faccia - "To treat with fishes in your face", used when someone has treated you disrespectfully.

    Buttarsi come un pesce - "To throw yourself like a fish", to throw yourself enthusiastically into an activity.

    'un pesce grosso' - "a big fish" is how Italians refer to a "big shot".

    Scambiare Sant’Antonio con il maiale - "To confuse Saint Anthony with the pig", meaning you've made a big mistake. Legend is that Saint Anthony was a swineherd and that's how the phrase originated.

    Oca giuliva - "Merry goose", used to refer to someone who's not very bright.

    Correre dietro alle farfalle - "To run behind the butterflies", chasing after an unachievable goal (a bit like "chasing after rainbows" I suppose).

    Salvare capra e cavoli - "To save both goat and cabbage", resolving a situation without having to compromise any aspect. Originates from the riddle of a man having to cross a river with a wolf, a goat and a cabbage without any of them being eaten by each other.

    Siamo a cavallo - "We're on the horse", like "we're out of the woods", i.e. now you're on the horse, you're on your way to safety.

    Sei una cicada o una formica? - "Are you a tree cricket or an ant?", the ant representing hard work and preparation for the future and the tree cricket representing lots of activity without much purpose.

    Chi pecora si fa, il lupo se la mangia - "Those who act like sheep get eaten by the wolf", i.e. stand up for yourself and your opinions, because if you're timid you won't get far.

    Far vedere I sorci Verdi - "To make someone see green rats", in 1936, an RAF squadron adopted three green rats as its emblem. Mussolini bragged of the ability of Italian pilots and the squadron took part in the numerous bombing raids throughout WW2. After that "I'll make you see green rats became a way to warn someone you were about to crush them with a humiliating defeat.

    In bocca al lupo! - "Into the mouth of the wolf!", meaning "good luck". The reply is "Crepi il lupo!" , "May the wolf croak". It's though to have originally been a hunting expression.

    un coniglio (rabbit): A coward.

    una civetta (owl): A flirt.

    un pesce (fish): Someone who doesn’t talk.

    un pollo da spennare - "A chicken waiting to be plucked", a person to be taken advantage of (rather like "a lamb to the slaughter").

    Someone who can eat anything and suffer no side effects has the stomaco da struzzo (stomach of an ostrich).

    You sleep like a ghiro (a dormouse) instead of like a log.

  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 2,976

    Top Dog & Underdog- I think these expressions are reputed to come from the days of the sawpit before mechanised sawmills. At the time the only way to get long planks of wood was to suspend tree trunks over a long  pit. 2 men worked a long double handled saw. The topdog was of course the man above the pit the underdog was down in the pit getting all the sawdust all over him.

    AB Still learning

  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 22,837

    Good one Ian.  Often wondered about that one.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
Sign In or Register to comment.