Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings
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Mad as a hatter
Meaning: Crazy behaviour.
Origin: In olden days, felt and other hats were prepared with the aid of mercurous nitrate, a highly toxic substance which can produce a tremoring disease similar to Parkinson's disease. Such people were assumed to be mad. The most famous Mad Hatter is in Lewis Caroll's "Alice in Wonderland", but the original is thought to be the 17th century Robert Crab, an eccentric who lived in Chesham, who gave away all his worldly goods to the poor and lived on dock leaves and grass.

Alternative: Originally the expression is believed to have been "mad as an adder," meaning "angry as a snake." However, in the Canadian writer Thomas Haliburton's Clockmaker serial (1836), the adder became a hatter and mad could mean loopy as well as angry. By then it was known that mercurous nitrate caused mental instability among hatters, who used the substance in brushing fur pelts. But contrary to perception, the character in Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) is not actually named the Mad Hatter. Thanks to Max Cryer.


Make both ends meet
Meaning: To live within one's means.
Origin: In accountancy, 'meet' used to be an adjective meaning "equal" or "balanced". The end was the end of the financial year in which both profit and loss accounts had to be balanced: the ends had to be met.

Alternative: From tailoring or dressmaking, the amount of cloth available might only just be sufficient to complete the garment, so that it would wrap completely around the body, making the ends meet. A saying with this sense occurs in Polish.


Make money hand over fist
Meaning: Rapid success in a business venture.
Example: Since I joined that pyramid club, soon I'll be making money hand over fist.
Origin: Sailors through the ages have used the same hand-over-hand motion when climbing up ropes, hauling in nets, and hoisting sails. The best seamen were those who could do this action the fastest. In the 19th century, Americans adapted the expression "hand over fist" - describing one hand clenching a rope and the other deftly moving above it - to suggest quickness and success.


Make no bones about it
Meaning: Don't misunderstand what I am saying, I am speaking frankly.
Example: Make no bones about it, I will be calling your boss about your proposition.
Origin: "Bones" in this case is short for boners. Although boner has other meanings, a boner is defined as a mistake. This meaning has fallen out of common usage but was once widely used.

To "make no bones" means make no boners or mistakes.


Making hay
Meaning: To be highly productive for a limited period of time when the opportunity is present.
Example: While in graduate school you may be living as a pauper, but when you get out with your new degree you will be making hay.
Origin: "Making Hay" is short for "Making hay while the sun shines". If you cut or harvest hay during inclement weather (e.g. rain) the hay becomes heavy and hard to rake and bail but even worse it will mold and become useless. You can only make hay while the sun shines.


Making tea with your navel
Meaning: Laughable.
Origin: Japanese origin.


Man up
Meaning: To accept responsibility; to take ownership; to gather your courage.
Example: If something hard needs to be done, then you ought to man up and take care of it.
Origin: Thanks to Pamela Walker.


Mark my words
Meaning: I will be proven correct.
Example: Mark my words, if you don't replace you tires you will have a blow out on your car by the end of the summer.
Origin: "Mark" in this case means to write, hence "mark my words" means to write down my words. This will enable the written words to be referenced later, presumably proving the speaker correct.


Mind your own Beeswax
Meaning: Keep your opinions and comments to yourself.
Example: If I want your opinion I'll beat it out of you - mind your own beeswax.
Origin: This came from the days when smallpox was a common disease that caused disfigurement. Those who survived the disease were left with pock marks on their body and face. Ladies would fill in the pock marks with beeswax. However when the weather was very warm the wax might melt. But it was not the thing to do for one lady to tell another that her makeup was melting.

Alternative: This may just be a childish rhyme to the phrase "mind you own business". "Biz" is sometimes used as an abbreviation for "business" and rhymes with "bees". "Biz" also sounds and is spelled similar to "buzz", the sound usually attributed to bees.


Mind your P's and Q's
Meaning: Behave properly.
Example: Since his drunk driving arrest, he has been minding his Ps and Qs.
Origin: Comes from the early pub days when beer and ale was served in pint and quart containers. The tab was kept on a chalkboard used to count the pints and quarts consumed. To watch your Ps and Qs is to control your alcoholic intake and behavior.

Not only did pub keepers maintain the count of pints and quarts consumed, they often maintained a tab for regular customers, especially sailors. The sailors tab was sometimes paid directly out of the sailors pay by the ship's captain. This to assure the pub keeper of payment.

However, this created the opportunity for the pub keeper to charge for a few extra pints and quarts. And in some cases the captain was in on this little deception, and shared in the extra payment. Hence it was to the sailors best interest to keep count of the pints and quarts. To mind his Ps and Qs.

Alternative: Lower case Ps and Qs look similar and can be mistaken for each other. When setting moveable type printing presses, "minding your Ps and Qs" is important.

Similarly, a person just learning how to write could easily confuse lower case Ps and Qs. Hence a need to be careful and "mind your P's and Q's".

Alternative: Ps and Qs may just be a childish word play for "please and thank yous"! Certainly this seems to fit with the accepted meaning.

Alternative: The printing reference is the correct one. Movable type for printing presses were always reversed (look at the keys on a typewriter or even a Daisy-wheel); the reversed 'p' looks like a 'q' and vice-versa. With so many individual letters required for even a single-page publication, a printer's devil (the apprentice who assembled the plates) had to be mindful not to confuse the two.   Thanks to Shelia Clark.


Monkey Business
Meaning: Silliness or fooling around; dishonest or illegal activities; idiotic pranks.
Example: Bubba was sent to the principal's office for monkey business - he used a monkey instead of an apple to greet the new teacher.
Origin: This expression has two meanings. One concerns comical behaviour like that of a playful monkey. The other refers to sneaky, unlawful actions. So a student could be sent to the principal’s office for monkey business and a politician can be sent to jail for monkey business.

This idiom, from 20th century America, is like many other expressions that relate human behavior and animal behavior ("sly as a fox" and "wise as an owl"), and probably comes from an older expression, "monkeyshines," which dates from the 1820s.


Monkey's uncle
Meaning: To express disbelief or skepticism at an idea, or surprise when you find something unexpected to be true.
Example: If Paul Martin remains in office, I'll be a monkey's uncle.
Origin: The publication of Darwin's theory of evolution in the "Decent of Man" was greeted with derision and a great deal of skepticism. The idea that man is related by a common ancestor to apes and monkeys was considered the most outrageous of the claims.

"I'll be a monkey's uncle" was originally a sarcastic remark by a non-believer of Darwin's theory and was intended to ridicule the theory of evolution.


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My giddy aunt
Meaning: My giddy aunt is an expression used to denote surprise.
Origin: The "giddy" in this instance is probably unrelated to a sense of spinning around but rather to an alternative meaning of the word indicating "impulsive" or "scatterbrained" (Old English gydig meant "mad, frenzied, possessed by God").

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