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  • Tie one on!

    May 30, 2014 | 0 Comments


    The phrase tie one on comes to us from American English and means ‘to overindulge in alcoholic drinks’. The full version of the phrase is tie a bun on, a phrase that became popular in the US in the 1890s. The suggestion is that bun is related to the Scottish word bun or boyne for a wooden cask of some kind, for holding water or spirits, or for use as a tub. It is of course the vat of spirits that is relevant here.

  • Budget words

    May 21, 2014 | 0 Comments


    The Federal Budget has produced a number of political favourites in our lexicon. For example, budget cuts are invariably ‘swingeing’, an adjective that is only ever trotted out in this context. The verb swinge means ‘to whip or scourge’ and can be tracked back to Old English where it meant ‘to smite’ but also, in domestic context, ‘to beat (eggs)’. Read more...


  • Slush fund

    May 15, 2014 | 0 Comments


    The story of the slush fund begins with the navy of the early 1800s where the sailors ate boiled meat. As the salted meat was cooked the fat collected on the top of the liquid and was strained off. This rejected fat was called ‘slush’ and was kept so that it could be sold to people looking for lard for their cooking or fuel for their oil lamps. Read more...


  • Usage of the word 'gay' by the younger generation

    May 09, 2014 | 0 Comments

    In the light of the current discussion of the meaning of the word ‘gay’ and our ever-evolving language this article from our archives may be of interest.

    From the archives 10/09/2010

    James Valentine raised the point this week that when children use words like 'gay' (meaning 'uncool') and 'retarded' (also meaning 'uncool') they don't mean anything hurtful by it. Read more...

  • Shakespeare’s dictionary

    May 06, 2014 | 0 Comments


    Two antiquarian booksellers in New York believe that they have the dictionary which Shakespeare used and that, following his annotations, they can track various words and phrases he used in his plays. Read more ...