May 20, 2009


The fact that the words "candid" and "candidate" share the same roots (the Indo European root word "kand" , that means "to shine" and is also the root for the word "candle") should not come as a surprise. What is interesting though is the reason why the word is used to refer to someone who is seeking a political position. In ancient Rome, by tradition, a person who would run for a political office would wear a white colored toga. This was more symbolic than a rule as it hinted at the purity of the person running for the political position (Ha! you would say, given how we perceive political candidates today, irrespective of our race or nation). So, though candidate is literally translated as "clothed in white", it was borrowed in English to refer to a political-position seeker, thanks to a Roman tradition.

April 28, 2009


Donnybrook - an uproar, brawl

Donnybrook is a district of Dublin, Ireland. It used to be the site of Donnybrook Fair. It began in 1204 when King John bestowed the eight-day event on the citizens to thank them for fortifying the city of Dublin. The fair became notorious for drunkenness and rowdiness giving rise to the word donnybrook. The fair was eventually banned in 1855, but the word stuck.

Usage example: .....the donnybrook on Capitol Hill over immigration.....


April 01, 2009

Dutch Courage

Meaning – bravery boosted by alcohol

During 17th century, the enmity between England and Holland increased because of control over sea and new world searched. So during one such a war sailors aboard the Hollander British warship were given brandy before beginning of the war. Due to this enmity, wherever Britishers settled, they started their anti-Dutch tradition.

Image Source:

P.S. :- Intention of second post was just to make sure 100th post is on my name. :D :D

Break a leg

Meaning - Wish good luck (especially) to actors before they go on to stage

There are different stories behind this phrase. But one interesting story goes with John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln on 14th April, 1865. After assassination, Booth tried to escape and broke his leg, but it was his luck that he escaped because of his broken leg. Still his luck ran out and got killed twelve days after the incident. Basically the assassination incident happened in a theatre and when Booth assassinated Lincoln, he tried to jump on stage and that’s how he broke his leg. So now the phrase is used to wish actors good luck even though it’s literal meaning sounds bad omen.

Image Source:

February 27, 2009


Here's to the ritual of raising glasses and proposing to drink in honor of someone or something special.

Ever wondered why the "toast-master" proposes a "toast" for the "toastee"?

It is believed that in ancient Rome, it was usual to put a piece of burnt toast in a wine glass. The reasons given for the practice range from adding flavor to the wine, to providing a "treat" at the bottom of the glass. The most plausible of them seems to be that it was a way to remove undesirable flavors from the wines, specially form the cheaper wines. As the practice made its way to England, the never-to-be-underestimated Englishmen added their own spin to it. Around 1700, it is believed that the British upper class began referring to the most popular lady at a party or a social gathering by putting a buttered toast, often with sugar and nutmeg in the butter, in a glass of wine to make it special. Once popular young ladies became the toast of the party, or of the town, raising your glasses to them became "toasting."

Sources: / ,

January 07, 2009

To turn a blind eye

To turn a blind eye - deliberately overlook

Admiral Hortaio Nelson, better known as Lord Nelson, was blinded in one eye early in his Royal Navy career. In 1801, during the seige of Copenhagen Lord Nelson, second in command of the English fleet, was ordered by his superior Admiral Sir Hyde Parker to withdraw forces by flag signals. When made aware of such signals, Nelson deliberately put the telescope to his blind eye and said he could see no such signal. Thus, he ignored the order as if he had not seen it and ordered his forces to continue the attack. Luckily for him, English won the day.
Supposedly he remarked later that he had a blind eye and sometimes had a right to use it! :)

Even if Nelson did not exactly use the phrase "turn a blind eye" or invent it, the phrase is based on this event in his life.

Sources: Wikipedia,
Image: LIFE Images

November 25, 2008


Quarantine - A condition of enforced isolation.

The word comes from a Venetian custom in the Middle Ages when ships arriving from the reported plague-stricken countries were obliged to spend 40 days (Italian "quaranta" or "forty" comes from the Latin "quadraginta," also meaning 40) at the port, in isolation, before being allowed to unload its cargo and crew. Venice, in those days, was the chief European port of entry and Europe had experienced many epiemics of plague. Forty days was supposed to be long enough to kill the infection for goods (and people) by exposure to air and sunlight.
The current usage of the word is not limited to 40 days but "any period" of isolation.

Trivia: Quarantine first appeared as a legal term in 1609, as the period of 40 days in which a widow could remain in her dead husband's house before creditors could seize it.

Sources:,, Wikipedia

November 21, 2008

Tar Baby

Tar Baby - a sticky situation: a situation or problem from which it is virtually impossible to disentagle oneself or that is only aggravated by efforts to solve it.

Continuing with the coal theme: here's an expression that received a lot of (unwanted???) attention when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney used it to describe a construction project in 2006 but was "hauled over the coals" for what is considered a racial epithet by some.

The tar baby is supposedly a popular character from African folklore. It gained popularity in the 19th century United States in the written form in one of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories, a collection of stories based on African-American folklore, narrated by the fictional Uncle Remus, a former slave. In the story, "Tar Baby" is a doll made of turpentine and tar, built by Brer Fox to entrap his enemy, a tricky and cunning Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit talks to the doll, and when it doesn't answer, he hits it, and gets stuck in the tar. The more he struggles with it, the more he is entangled in it.

It sounds like yet another harmless story, doesn't it? For reasons better known to this hard-to-comprehend world, (or perhaps I am missing some subtle nuances here???) the expression has been occasionally used as a derogatory term for African-Americans. Needless to add, public figures who choose to use it encounter controversy.

Source:, Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia (Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, drawing by E.W. Kemble from The Tar-Baby, Joel Harris, 1904)

November 13, 2008

Carrying Coal to Newcastle

Meaning - To do something that is obviously superfluous

The phrase, "carrying coals to Newcastle," means spending an inordinate amount of energy on something useless, fruitless, or redundant. This idiom arose in the 15th century because Newcastle, England was known throughout the country as a major exporter of coal. Therefore, "carrying coals to Newcastle" would do you no good, because there was more coal there than anywhere else. Variations on the saying include "bringing," "taking," or "moving" the coal.

Other countries have similar phrases; in German it's 'taking owls to Athens' (the inhabitants of Athens already having sufficient wisdom). 'Selling snow to Eskimos', which in many people's understanding is also the same, has a different connotation. Both the Dutch and Spanish having sayings, 'like bringing water to the ocean'. In Poland and Sweden, you'd hear, 'bringing wood to the forest'. Some regionally specific idioms for redundancy include Russia's 'taking samovars to Tulu,' a city famous for its spigotted teapots.

Ironically, in 2004 Newcastle began importing coal from Russia.

November 08, 2008

Canary in a Coal Mine

Life for an actual canary in a coal mine could be described in three words - short but meaningful. Early coal mines did not feature ventilation systems, so miners would routinely bring a caged canary into new coal seams. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the canary in a coal mine kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary in a coal mine signalled an immediate evacuation.
Even as gas detection technology improved, some mining companies still relied on the 'canary in a coal mine' method well into the 20th century. Other animals were used occasionally, but only the canary had the ability to detect small concentrations of gas and react instinctively.
Today, the practice of using a canary in a coal mine has become part of coal mining lore, but the ideology behind it has become a popular expression. The phrase living like a canary in a coal mine often refers to serving as a warning to others. The actual canary in a coal mine had little control over its fate, but it continued to sing anyway. In one sense, living like a canary in a coal mine indicates a willingness to experience life's dangers without compromise

September 07, 2008

Ivy League

Ivy League - Group of eight old, distinguished universities in the northeastern U.S., high in academic and social prestige (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, and Cornell Universities, the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth College). Also called the "Ancient Eight" or simply the "Ivies"

There are a myriad theories that revolve around this one. To wit:

The ivy in the term is referring to the ivy-covered walls of the historic buildings of these institutions (See image)

One theory leads us to believe that over a century ago, an interscholastic athletic league was formed that comprised of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and a fourth school that keeps changing with the stories . It was officially called "IV League"; IV standing for Roman numeral four.

Most agree though that the term came from the sports world when New York Tribune sportswriter in 1933 who while describing the inter-university football season wrote, "A proportion of our eastern ivy colleges are meeting little fellows another Saturday before plunging into the strife and the turmoil".

Source: Wikipedia, Google Images

August 21, 2008


Well-heeled - prosperous

I don’t know a Manolo Blahnik from a Louis Vuitton but then I’m not well-heeled either!!!! :)

If you have an imagination as tame as mine, you’d assume that the origin of “well-heeled” comes from the plush set in their haute couture.
But no!!! The origin of the expression lies in the cock-fighting days of the yore when the contesting birds were equipped with the best spurs to cause the most damage. From there, it moved to the frontier days in America’s history when men carried concealed pistols in their boots. And as language knows no bounds, from concealed weapons it came to be used in reference to money (why?? don't know!!!!), as in the current usage.

Source:, Google Images

July 21, 2008


Buccaneer - a pirate

Do you barbecue? If the answer's a yay vs.a nay, then you may very well count yourself in the same league as swashbuckling Capt. Jack Sparrow. 'Coz that's where the word's origin lies.

Buccaneer originates in French as "boucanier" which referred to a person on the Caribbean islands who hunted wild boars etc. and cured/smoked the meat over a barbecue frame called a "boucan" in French. The word "boucan" itself came from a Tupi word meaning "a rack or rack-like platform." So there! If you barbecue, you are no less than Johnny Depp himself!!!!! :)

Source: Wikipedia/Google Images

June 24, 2008


Meaning - Spring back;spring away from an impact (as a verb) and a glancing rebound(as a noun).

The origin of this french word is unknown. This was used as military term in earlier times to express the rebound of a projectile that strikes on a hard surface.It is said that during 18th century, field artillery, which was not,before Napolean's time,relied upon the ricochet of round shot.The term "ricochet" is now only applied, in modern rifle shooting, to the graze of a bullet that has struck short.

I came across its use in below line from The New York times "Some Muslim supporters of Mr. Obama seem to ricochet between dejection and optimism."


June 05, 2008


Underdog - One that is at a disadvantage.

I always thought that the “dog” bit here referred to dogfight. But as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". So a little bird-dogging revealed that instead of canine reference, dog in underdog is actually a plank of wood. The word supposedly originates from shipbuilding where the planks of wood (called dogs) were sawn for their construction. The senior saws-man stood on top of the plank and he was the overdog. The junior had to go below the planks. And…….. no brownie points for guessing that he was called the "underdog". As simple as that! :)
Source: Wikipedia,

May 31, 2008


By now, you know for certain, that I love eponyms. And this one comes with a "twist" ;D

I would have liked to believe that Elvis Presley's facial hair style would have started the trend but you gotta see the sideburns of Ambrose Burnside to know why they were named after him :D

Ambrose Burnside was a general in theUnion Army in the American Civil War and the guy could have not attained such popularity with his military exploits as he did with his fashion statement. He was the commander of the Army of the Potomac but was relieved of his command after losing the battle of Fredericksburg. His way of wearing his side whiskers along with a moustache but clean shaven chin gave the style the name Burnside's which with time morphed into burnsides and then into sideburns as such a facial pattern was on the sides of a face.

Source: Google,

April 28, 2008


This is courtesy a friend who’s running a 26.2 miles marathon this June to raise funds for cancer research. A marathon is called so in remembrance of a Greek soldier who as the legend goes, ran from Marathon to Athens (about 25 miles) to report the Greek victory over Perisans at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. And then he dropped dead :(

Image: The soldier of Marathon announces the victory, from Google Images.

March 01, 2008


Incunabulum -
1 : a book printed before 1501

2 : a work of art or of industry of an early period

The invention of the mechanized printing press in the 15th century revolutionized the way books were produced, dramatically increasing the number and variety of works to be published and distributed to awaiting readers. "Incunabulum" first appeared in English in the 19th century, referring retroactively to those books produced in the first decades of printing press technology, specifically those printed before the year 1501, a date that appears to have been determined only arbitrarily. Coming from Latin, "incunabulum" is singular of "incunabula," which translates literally to "swaddling clothes" or "bands holding the baby in a cradle." The "baby" in this case is likely a figurative one, referring to a book that was produced when the art of printing was still in its infancy.

For further reading check out these links..

Source: Merriam Webster

February 26, 2008

Buckley's Chance

Buckley's Chance : No chance at all (or only a very slim chance). Also called "Buckley's and none" or "Buckley's hope".

The origin of the term isn't certain but the most popular story pins itto William Buckley (1780-1856), a British convict transported to Australia.There, he escaped and found refuge among the Aborigines for more than threedecades. When he was rediscovered he had forgotten how to speak English.Since survival in the outback was difficult it was said that anyone lostthere had Buckley's chance of making it.

Another possibility is a pun on the Melbourne department store Buckleyand Nunn, i.e. one has two chances: Buckley's or none


February 16, 2008


Baconian : one who believes that Francis Bacon wrote the works usually attributed to Shakespeare

Sir Francis Bacon was a man of many talents: he was a lawyer, a statesman, a philosopher, and a man of letters. He is remembered for the style and expression of his writing, for his power as a speaker in Parliament, and for his advocacy of what is today known as the "Baconian method" of arriving at scientific conclusions by careful examination of evidence and sorting of facts. Sir Francis Bacon is also considered, by some people, to be the true author of Shakespeare's works. The theory, which was first propounded in the mid-1800s, flourished from about 1880 to 1930 and is still subscribed to in certain circles today.

Well, I prefer to stay away from all bacons, be it Francis or beef! And can you believe it the picture above is his self portrait!!! I am sure he must have had good reasons to render such a humble tribute to oneself.

January 27, 2008

Purple prose

Purple prose - literary works written in a language that is overly extravagant and ornate.

As the chief editor of the blog enjoys his sabbatical, I decided to dedicate a post here on his style of writing ;DD

In ancient days, purple dye was the rarest and most expensive thereby making it the color of choice for the royalty. One reason why purple robes came to be associated with European royalty. It is known that during Roman Republic, social climbers used to sew a patch of royal fabric on an ordinary cloth for the pretension of wealth. Roman poet, Horace in his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry) used the phrase in allusion to ornate literary works.

Some of the examples of purple-prose that Wikipedia refers to are outrageously hilarious, to wit: "a somnambular accommodation" (a bedroom), "a nectarian beverage" (wine).

A sample of the recent contribution by the Chief himself:

"Thus was implanted a peeve towards European geo-political illiteracy. This post is a self gratiating attempt towards assuaging that peeve. Hark, self gratiating."


Source: Wikipedia