Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings
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Salad days
 
Meaning: Youthful inexperience, a time of early success and promise.
Example: The salad days for Apple computer are over.
Origin: Popularized in Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra," Act 1, scene 5, written in 1606. Cleopatra, at one point, is lavishing praise on her new love, Antony. One of Cleo's female attendants reminds her that she (Cleo) once felt the same passion about Caesar.

Cleopatra retorts that was in her "salad days, when I was green in judgment: cold in blood". In this specific context, the phrase means "naive," but it also has the sense of "in one's youth," a time of blooming health and infinite prospect. One might wonder if those were Cleo's "Caesar salad days"!

Perhaps Shakespeare's statement was a reference to green being the color of salad, and cold the temperature of said salad. Green is frequently used to describe youth or inexperience. Of course salad refers to many dishes (potato salad, egg salad, pasta salad) not just the lettuce based salad so popular today.

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Saved by the bell
 
Meaning: A last-minute rescue.
Example:
Origin: The most obvious explanation comes from a boxer being saved by the round-ending bell.

Alternative: A guard at Windsor Castle in the Victorian times was accused of being asleep on night duty. He vigorously denied this and, in his defence, said that he had heard Big Ben (which could be heard in Windsor in those days before traffic and Heathrow Airport) chime 13 at midnight. The mechanism was checked and it was found that a gear or cog had slipped and that the clock had indeed chimed 13 the previous night - he was truly Saved by the Bell.

Alternative: It came into use as a boxing term in the late 19th century, but had earlier origins from the 17th century. The term described being saved by ringing a bell attached to a coffin to help with the very real problem of people being buried alive (due to lack of medical understanding of unconsciousness, comas, seizures and other death-like states therefore people were erroneously pronounced dead). There were several patents in England and the USA for 'safety coffins' with the bells incorporated into the designs registered in the 19th century and up to as late as 1955. There was even a society to help with this problem, Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Dead. The term “Dead Ringer” is also associated with this idea. Thanks to Teresa Kappers-Wright.

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Scape goat
 
Meaning: Someone who takes the fall for others.
Example: Jason became the scape goat for cheating on the exam, even though he was one of many who had the answer sheet.
Origin: This expression is based on a genetic defect that has now been purposely bred into some goats that we now call "fainting goats." The ones today are "collectible" pets for people who enjoy seeing them fall over when they are frightened. The genetic defect is in their fight or flight gene, which causes them to stiffen when they need to run. But shepherds and farmers, who recognized this as a defect, would keep one per herd for this purpose: When a predator like a wolf would threaten the flock, the rest would run off while the defective goat would fall over and get eaten, allowing the others a chance to Escape. Thus the Escape Goat or Scape Goat takes the fall. Thanks to Di Oakley.

Alternative: Scape goat is a Biblical reference from Leviticus 16:8-10 and refers to taking the blame for someone else; the scape goat symbolically bearing the sins of Israel and sent into the wilderness. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. Thanks to Jeff Paynter.

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Scot free
 
Meaning: To get away with something without paying a price; excape punishment.
Example: Some might say OJ got off scot free.
Origin: Scot was a 13th Century Scottish term for money you paid at a tavern for food and drink, or when a hat was passed to pay the entertainer - or a unit of taxation. Anyone who did not have to pay, or was exempted from paying taxes, got off “Scot free”. Later, it came to mean a local tax that paid the sheriff’s expenses.

Alternative: A slate for marking pub bills is called a scot. Scot free is to not pay the bill on your Scot.

Alternative: Refers to Dred Scott, a slave who crossed from a “slave state” to a “free state”. In the days of U.S. slavery, the Dred Scott case was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that slaves were property and had no rights.

Related term: “Get Off Scot-Free”

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Scrape the bottom of the barrel

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Screw the moose
 
Meaning: Taking it easy, not getting stressed out.
Example: Instead of worrying about the price of tea in China, the joe-kster likes to screw the moose by updating joe-ks.com.
Origin: Fav saying of the joe-kster... is there really a history to this one? Come up with a REAL GOOD ONE (fact or fiction) and joe-ks.com will send you a stuffed animal moose for your efforts!

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Seamy side
 
Meaning: The unsavory or worst part.
Example: Since moving to skid row, Harold saw a lot of the seamy side of life for the poor people... at least it would seam sew!
Origin: This expression originally referred to the inside part of a sewed garment - if the garment was turned inside out (so that the wrong side was showing), the stitched seams were clearly visible.

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Second fiddle
 
Meaning: To be subordinate (to another person).
Example: In the movie, Dr. Watson was no second fiddle to Sherlock Holmes - they always appeared to be equal partners.
Origin: This phrase evolved from the late 19th and early 20th century pickpocket slang term 'Sidekick'. 'Kick' was the front side pocket of a pair of trousers, and was thought to be the pocket safest from theft. Thus 'side-kick' became an inseparable companion. As well, the companion also helped the main character whenever they needed it. A folk origin for 'Sidekick' refers to their companion being 'kicked to the side', or otherwise ignored in favour of the more charismatic lead hero.

In an orchestra or string quartet, the second fiddle (or violin) plays music which, although important, tends to have less of the melody and more of the supporting harmony than the first fiddle, which is generally more prominent. The lead fiddle player received recognition and attention, so if you played second fiddle - the back-up, or supporting fiddle - you were out of the spotlight and received little attention. The phrase second fiddle is usually used when a person is feeling inferior, or when someone else is receiving all the credit while he/she is unrecognized.

In non-musical figurative use, this phrase implies a greater element of subservience and relative unimportance than is literally the case.

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See a man about a dog
 
Meaning: Unwilling to reveal the true nature of ones' business.
Example: Uncle Elmer didn't want little Joey to know what he did at the outhouse, so he told Johnny that he was going to see a man about a dog.
Origin: The expression comes from the 1866 play 'Flying Scud' by Irish-born playwright Dion Boucicault. One of the characters uses the words as an excuse to get away from a tricky situation. This character says: "Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can't stop; I've got to see a man about a dog".

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Sell by the candle
 
Meaning: A form of sale by auction.
Example:
Origin: A pin is thrust through a candle about an inch from the top, and bidding goes on till the candle is burnt down to the pin; when the pin drops into the candlestick the last bidder is declared the purchaser.

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Sell yourself short
 
Meaning: Having a lack of confidence in ones own abilities.
Example: Don't sell yourself short, you are a good dancer.
Origin: Comes from short selling of stocks. To sell a stock short is to sell shares that you don't own. These shares must be bought at a future time to complete the transaction. Selling short is used when investors believe the price of the stock is going down, and they wish to profit from that drop in price. They can sell a stock at today's price in anticipation of acquiring the stock at a lower future price.

Selling a stock short is a bet that the value of the stock is going down. Hence selling yourself short is an expectation that you are on the decline.

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Sent to Coventry
 
Meaning: Someone shunned by their fellow citizens and friends.
Example:
Origin: In the English Civil War, Birmingham was strongly Parliamentarian; the citizens were aware of a small group of Royalists in their midst. Some of these they killed and others they sent as prisoners to nearby Coventry, also a Parliamentary town. By being sent to Coventry, these people were rescued. In truth they had good fortune - their colleagues were killed.

Alternative: The citizens of Coventry were in a phase of hating the military, possibly also as a result of the Civil War. Such was this hate that the young women of the town were forbidden to speak to the soldiers garrisoned there. Naturally no soldier welcomed such a posting.

Alternative: The name Coventry is derived from Covin-tree, an oak which is supposed to have stood in front of the castle in feudal times. The tree was used as the gallows and those to be executed were sent to the covin-tree.

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Service

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Ship shape
 
Meaning: Everything is neat and tidy.
Example:
Origin: This phrase comes from two aspects of the old Bristol docks in the days before the Floating Harbour was established in the 1830s. Bristol had, and still has, one of the largest differences of water level between ebb and flood in the World (~ 10 metres). At low tide, ships in the harbour, if not really properly constructed and laden, would either break their backs or their cargoes would shift. Because of this, Bristol ships were always first class in these respects, hence the saying.

Alternative: The full phrase is more commonly, in England, "ship-shape and Bristol-fashion". Thanks to Lee Goddard.

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Shoe in
 
Meaning: A sure winner.
Example: Some stocks that seem like a shoe in turn out to be more like worn out sandals.
Origin: The commonly used spelling of "shoe in" makes it seem as if it were rooted in the action of a shoehorn. In fact, the meaning comes from horse racing lingo: corrupt jockeys conspire and agree to hold back their mounts and to "shoo in," or urge forward, a slow horse on which they have bet. In such a phony contest, the shoo-in is the only horse in the race that is trying to win.

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Short end of the stick
 
Meaning: The inferior part; worse side of an unequal deal.
Example: Trudy got the short end of the stick by having to work an extra hour on graveyard shift of Daylight-Saving Day.
Origin: 1500s origin from term "worse end of the staff" which in the mid-1800s became "short" or "shitty end of the stick" - allegedly from a stick poked up one's rectum by another in command of the situation.

Alternative: Fighting with sticks, where having a shorter stick is a disadvantage.

Related Phrase: "Wrong End Of The Stick"

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Short shrift
 
Meaning: Shrift: the act of hearing a confession and giving absolution.
Example:
Origin: A condemned prisoner’s final confession was often brief, to ensure an on-time execution. In effect, condemned prisoners got short shrift.

See also: Shrift: Trivia Sudoku

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Shortstop
 
Meaning: The position in baseball between second base and third base.
Example:
Origin: Baseball began with four outfielders and only three infielders to guard the bases. In 1849, Daniel Lucius (D.L.) Adams (aka Doc Adams, 1814-1899), as President of the New York Base Ball Club, realized that three men could cover fly balls in the outfield and that by moving one of these outfield players to the infield he could keep a lot of ground balls from getting through by stopping them short, thus giving the new position its name: shortstop. Technically, this position is still an outfielder.

More Info on “Doc Adams” by John Thorn

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Show a leg
 
Meaning: An order for people to get out of bed.
Example: The captain woke the crew up in the morning by telling them to show a leg. If you're not in the habit of reading joe-ks.com in the morning, this same captain is apt to tell you to 'break a leg'!
Origin: This naval expression is today mainly used in camps, dormitories or other place where men sleep in communal rooms. The origin goes back to the days when civilian women were tolerated on board ship. When the bosun's mate called out the hands in the mornings he did so with the shout, "Show a leg!" Modern English has almost forgotten the remainder of the shout: "... or a purser's stocking". The full meaning implied that if a female leg appeared (preferably clad in a stocking), then she could stay in her bunk or hammock until the men had departed.

Alternative #1: It is correct that civilian women, mostly wives of the sailors were allowed to take berth on sailing vessels. When the roving watch came around to wake up those that were to go on the next watch, he would say, "Show a leg." If the woman was in the bunk she would show a leg so the watch would not further rouse her. If the man was in the bunk, the watch would continue to rouse the sailor. Thanks to James Banks, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A..

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Show your true colours
 
Meaning: To reveal your true intentions, personality, or behaviors.
Example: Everyone is on best behavior on the first date, but soon enough you will show your true colours.
Origin: Colour(s) has numerous meanings. An early use of the word is flag, pennant, or badge.

Early warships often carried flags from many nations on board in order to elude or deceive the enemy. The rules of civilized warfare called for all ships to hoist their true national ensigns before firing a shot.

Someone who finally "shows his true colours" is acting like a warship which hails another ship flying one flag, but then hoisted their own when they got in firing range.

Related phrase: "Passed with flying colours".

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Silly billy
 
Meaning: People who are thought to be a bit stupid about a particular matter.
Example: Don't be a silly billy.
Origin: This phrase originate from a nickname given to King William IV (b1765: 1830-37). There is also an element of rhyming in the words.

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Sitting duck
 
Meaning: Vulnerable, easy prey; someone or something likely to be attacked and unable to put up a defense.
Example: Salesmen learn to size up a prospective customer. When they see a sitting duck like your wife, they know it instinctively.
Origin: A duck hunter knows that if a duck is sitting still, it’s a much easier target than a duck in flight. By the first half of the 20th century, the phrase "Sitting duck" was transferred to any person who was an easy mark for someone who wanted to cheat or do him or her harm.

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Sitting on the throne
 
Meaning: Slang term for sitting on a bathroom toilet.
Example: While in Italy at the Baths of Caracalla, Joe caught a mild case of diarrhea, and ended up spending a lot of time sitting on the throne.
Origin: In the Bible, the Pharaoh of the Exodus is described as sitting on a throne (Exodus 11:5, 12:29), and descandants sat on the throne of David (Jeremiah 33:17-21). Aside from a throne being referred to as the official chair or seat upon which a monarch is seated on state or ceremonial occasions, today's slang connotation refers to the act of spending a 'more than normal time' on a bathroom toilet.

The throne of the Pope Pius II opened up, and stored his chamber pot (in the Palazzo Piccolomini, Pienza, Italy). Thanks to Jim Knoke, Valley Center, California.

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Skating on thin ice
 
Meaning: Speaking carefully on a potentially dangerous topic; or taking a risk and challenging danger.
Example:
Origin: This phrase was used by American poet, philosopher, orator and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson in an essay on "Prudence" (1841): Our Yankee trade is reputed to be very much on the extreme of this prudence. It takes bank-notes, good, bad, clean, ragged, and saves itself by the speed with which it passes them off. Iron cannot rust, nor beer sour, nor timber rot, nor calicoes go out of fashion, nor money stocks depreciate, in the few swift moments in which the Yankee suffers any one of them to remain in his possession. In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed." Thanks to Max Cryer.

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Skeletons in the closet
 
Meaning: To have something to hide about ones past.
Example: Kennedy has more than a few skeletons in the closet.
Origin: Comes from the fairy tale of Blue Beard and his closet. He gave all the keys of the house to his wife when he left on business, forbidding her access to only one room, a closet at the end of a long corridor. She opened it, of course, and there she found the dead bodies of his previous wives.

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Sleep tight
 
Meaning: Sleep well.
Example: Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite!
Origin: Before box springs were in use, old bed frames used rope pulled tightly between the frame rails to support a mattress. If the rope became loose, the mattress would sag making for uncomfortable sleeping. Tightening the ropes would help one get a good night sleep.

Alternative #1: Though it would otherwise sound plausible, the above explanation seems to be an after-the-fact kind of reasoning that is commonly attributed to many metaphors. First off, most metaphors are simply that, metaphorical. In this instance, I could find no written example of this phrase referring to beds in any children's stories (or otherwise). Moreover, though the earliest recorded phrase dates to the 1860s, it seems to imply "soundly" or "well": In a diary by Susan Eppes ('Through Some Eventful Years', May 2nd, 1866): "All is ready and we leave as soon as breakfast is over. Goodbye little Diary. 'Sleep tight and wake bright,' for I will need you when I return." Further contrary evidence includes the very definition of tight: The OED gives, as a late 18th century definition of tight: 'soundly, roundly', also the adverb "tightly" was used in the late 16th century to mean 'soundly, properly' or 'well'. Though this "lack of evidence" concerning a connection to the rope bed is not definitive, it does give good reason for doubting the rope bed explanation. More likely, this term is probably a late 19th/early 20th century rhyme (made after rope beds went out of common use and probably unrelated to them) which was only later associated with the rope bed because it seemed plausible to make that connection. It is unlikely that for the hundreds of years that rope beds have been around, nobody ever wrote this "common" phrase down in the form we now know. Perhaps it is that we hear something so often it becomes "true" to us even though all evidence is to the contrary. Thanks to Brian Morrill.

Alternative #2: An alternate explanation may derive from the Settlement Era of the Westward Expansion. As noted in other discussions on the subject, pioneer homes of the early half of the 19th century were often infested with all manner of insect-bedbugs, lice, and fleas were common bedtime companions. As several compendiums of early Kentucky history note, travelers would often choose to sleep on the floor even when offered the choice bed. De Tocqueville relates some of these conditions in his essays of American travel. It was a common practice to wrap oneself completely in a blanket in an effort to deter the aggravation of bed pests until one fell asleep. Children were wrapped tightly, or bundled. Bundling was a common practice in these times also for controlling the activity of infants and toddlers whilst the mother accomplished her daily tasks. Thanks to Patrick Thrush.

Alternative: 'Tight' has long been slang for a relaxed state due to inebriation, often brought about by a potent last-moment drink before going to bed (aka - a nightcap). By doing so, a person fell asleep faster and was less-likely to be disturbed by various noises. Hence, a person who slept tight (went to bed drunk) slept better and was more refreshed in the morning.   Thanks to Shelia Clark.

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Slow poke
 
Meaning: A person who is slow
Example: I am late for dinner because I got stuck behind some slow poke on the highway.
Origin: Poke has a number of meanings, including to move or act slowly or aimlessly. For example, "we just poked around and didn't accomplish much".

So "slow poke" is almost redundant. This phrase probably evolved as originally describing the action (e.g.. moving slowly) to become a description of the person performing the action.

Also makes one think about the word cowpoke. Perhaps "slow poke" was a description of a slow cowboy.

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Slush fund
 
Meaning: A hidden cache of money used for illegal or corrupt political purposes.
Example:
Origin: This phrase is derived from the 19th century shipboard practice of boiling up large pots of pork and other fatty meats. The fat that rose to the top of the kettles was stored in vats and then sold to soap and candle makers. The money received from the sale of the 'slush' was used for the crew's comfort and entertainment.

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Sly as a fox
 
Meaning: To be smart or cunning while appearing not to know what you are doing.
Example:
Origin: The fox is known for its cunning and crafty ways.

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Smart Alec
 
Meaning: A somewhat conceited, know-it-all person; someone who makes wisecrack comments.
Example: Listen smart Alec; my toupee is none of your business.
Origin: "Smart Alec" dates back to mid-19th century America. Regarding the identity of "Alec", most American dictionaries point to Alec Hoag, a notorious pimp and thief who operated in New York in the 1840s. He operated a trick called "The Panel Game" where he would sneak in via gaps in the walls and steal the valuables of his sleeping or unwary clients. The reputation he generated for not getting caught earned him the nickname Smart Alec.

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Smoke and mirrors
 
Meaning: Not real, lacking substance, to create an illusion.
Example: Congress proposes to cut taxes, increase spending, and reduce the budget deficit all at the same time through the judicious application of smoke and mirrors.
Origin: Magicians often use smoke and mirrors to create illusions and obscure your vision of a bit of trickery. A person who is using "smoke and mirrors" is creating an illusion.

Related phrase: "Blowing smoke".

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Snake Oil
 
Meaning: Quack medicine; false medical remedies.
Example: Con men used to travel town to town hawking snake oil said to be made of Chinese snakes, so the FDA was created to put a stop to it and other food and drug scams.
Origin: This phrase came from Western imitations of Chinese arthritis medicine that was made from the rendered fat of certain types of sea snake. Modern tests indicate the Chinese stuff works but the western imitations of course were all bogus, so Snake Oil came to meant any quack medicine.

Thanks to Scientific American and Steve Pitt.
See also Collectors Weekly article

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So long
 
Meaning: A concluding remark at parting.
Example: So long, see you later.
Origin: So-long came from the Arabic salaam and the Hebrew shalom.

Related: "Good bye".

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Son of a gun
 
Meaning: Exclamation of disbelief.
Example: I'll be a son of a gun. I didn't think you could keep a job for more than six months.
Origin: In the past it was one of contempt and derision derived from the fact that it described a special type of illegitimate child. In the old days civilian women were allowed to live on naval ships; many became pregnant and had their child on board, usually near the midship gun behind a canvas screen.

If the father were unknown, then the male child was recorded in the ship's log as a “son of a gun”. Thanks to Kathryn Groobin.

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Sour grapes
 
Meaning: An implausible excuse for not achieving a goal; to be a little bitter about someone else's success.
Example:
Origin: This phrase comes from one of Aesop's fables in which a fox, having unsuccessfully tried to get at some grapes in a vineyard, went off saying "They're as sour as crabs, anyway!" ‘Crabs' is likely to refer to 'crab apples'.

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Spaghetti on the wall
 
Meaning: A trial and error method - try something to see what works.
Example: Through use of nanoscale drug technology, drug companies no longer need to throw spaghetti on the wall to find out which drugs are most promising.
Origin: This phrase comes from an old adage about throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. We at joe-ks.com suspect that this is not one of the mottos at The Old Spaghetti Factory or The Macaroni Grill. If you know where this phrase first originated, let us know!   Thanks to Anne Patteet.

Alternative: Throwing spaghetti on the wall is how you know spaghetti is fully cooked. If it sticks to the wall, you have cooked it long enough. It it does not stick, you need to cook it more. The real problem with this technique is that overcooked spaghetti sticks to the walls too!   Thanks to Tarean West.

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Speak of the Devil
 
Meaning: Someone appears after you mention them.
Example: - look who's here!
Origin: "Speak of the Devil" is short for "Speak of the Devil and he shall come". It was believed that if you spoke about the Devil it would attract his attention. That's why when you're talking about someone and they show up people say "Speak of the Devil".

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Speak off the cuff
 
Meaning: To speak spontaneously, without much preparation.
Example:
Origin: "Cuff" comes from the habit of some after dinner speakers making quick notes on the cuff of their stiff shirts in order to remind themselves of some points or other that they had, perhaps, not considered before. It was all done with virtually no preparation.

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Spill the beans
 
Meaning: A secret has been revealed.
Example:
Origin: The ancient Greeks were very fastidious about who they would let into membership of their many secret societies. A common voting method was for members to drop either a white or a black bean into a jar. White meant acceptance and black rejection of the new application. It only needed a few black beans for total rejection. The precise numbers of white and black votes were meant to be secret but, occasionally, the jar was knocked over and the beans were spilt.

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Spin a yarn
 
Meaning: To tell a tale.
Example:
Origin: In the old days, women used to spin yarn on spinning wheels. They frequently did this in groups and, to pass the time, they often told each other stories. In time the words came to mean the production of the stories themselves.

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Spitting image
 
Meaning: To bear an identical resemblance, to look alike.
Example: I am often told that I am the spitting image of some guy named Fermela Frackenfarten but I don't know who she is.
Origin: This phrase was originally "spit and image".

It is a reference to polishing something using spit, to the point where you can see you own reflection or image in it. Shoes and apples come to mind.

Alternative: The phrase may have originally been "spirit and image". This indicated a likeness of spirit as well as appearance.

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Square meal
 
Meaning: A nutritious meal.
Example: I am overweight because my wife's cooking is delicious but full of fat and sugar. The only way to get a good square meal is to eat out.
Origin: British war ships in the 1700s including the HMS Victory did not have the best of living conditions. A sailors breakfast and lunch were sparse meals consisting of little more than bread and a beverage. But the third meal of the day included meat and was served on a square tray. Eating a substantial meal onboard a ship required a tray to carry it all. Hence a "square meal" was the most substantial meal served.

Related phrase: "Three squares".

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Stave Off
 
Meaning: Keep something away, albeit temporarily.
Example:
Origin: A stave is a stick of wood, from the plural of staff, staves. In the early 17th century, staves were used in the 'sport' of bull-baiting, where dogs were set against bulls. If the dogs got a bull down, the bull's owner often tried to save him for another fight by driving the dogs off with a stave.

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Sticky Wicket
 
Meaning: A difficult or awkward situation that calls for delicate handling.
Example:
Origin: This 1920s British expression still has some usage in the United States as a humorous term. It comes from the phrase bat at a sticky wicket, meaning to contend with great difficulties, which has its origins in cricket. In cricket, a sticky wicket (goal) literally means that
the ground around a wicket is soggy because of recent, heavy rain. This condition doesn't allow the ball to bounce well, making things difficult for the players trying to field it.

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Stink to high heaven
 
Meaning: To have a very strong odor.
Example: There's a road kill on 101 that stinks to high heaven.
Origin: Heaven as referenced in the bible is presumably quite a long distance away, and anything here that could be smelled in heaven would be a powerful odor indeed.

Shakespeare may have originated the phrase (or at least made it famous) in "Hamlet" when Hamlet's uncle, the king of Denmark says: "O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon it, A brother's murder."

Heavens also refers to the planets and stars. Also a fair distance away. It's interesting that Shakespeare's reference was not an actually an odor, but a deed that was observable from heaven.

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Stone the crows
 
Meaning: To express amazement, wonder.
Example:
Origin: For many centuries, young children (and others) were employed as bird scarers, especially of crows. They used whatever means were available to frighten away the birds, hence the expression "stone the crows".

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Straight and narrow
 
Meaning: To stay out of trouble.
Example: Ever since getting out of jail on bail I have been on the straight and narrow.
Origin: This phrase comes from the Bible and describes the path to heaven.

Matthew 7:14 to be exact: "Broad is the way that is the path of destruction but narrow is the gate and straight is the way which leadeth to the house of God."

A second reference to it is in John Bunyan's book "The Pilgrim's Progress". In it, Pilgrim, the representative of the Everyman, must follow the "straight & narrow".

A third comes from John the Baptist: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make his path straight."

This was formerly “strait and narrow”. “Strait” means narrow or confining, as in “strait jacket”, or a “Strait of Gibralter”. Thanks to David Wheat

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Straight as an arrow
 
Meaning: To stay out of trouble.
Example: Ever since I got speeding ticket number seven, I have been flying as straight as an arrow.
Origin: This phrase is a mispronunciation of the phrase "straight and narrow", which is a biblical reference to the path to heaven.

Alternative: Refers to the apparent flight of an arrow, straight. In fact arrows appear to fly straight only when observed over short distances. They actually travel an arced path.

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Straight from the horse's mouth
 
Meaning: Directly from the source.
Example: If you want the real story you have to get it straight from the horse's mouth.
Origin: This is a boast of confidence from a racetrack tipster, who says he gets his information from the horses themselves—thereby assuring the bettor that the info is the correct.

Alternative: A horse trader would bend the ear of a prospective buyer with all kinds of talk about the animal, but for a clear measure of its worth, one can simply look in the animal's mouth. You can tell a great deal about a horse from its mouth. Age, nutrition, general health of the horse, and if it had been over reined.

If a horse is unruly you have to rein it in a lot, and this shows in the horse's mouth.

Related phrases: "Long in the Tooth" and "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

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Strike while the iron is hot
 
Meaning: Act quickly while the opportunity is still available.
Example: If you want the job, you need to strike while the iron is hot.
Origin: Blacksmiths working iron by hand heat the iron in a fire to red-hot making it malleable. The Smith removes the iron from the fire and shapes it with blows from a hammer. They need to work quickly before the iron cools. Once the iron is cool, it becomes brittle and the opportunity to hammer it into shape has passed.

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Stump Someone
 
Meaning: Ask someone a question and they can't answer.
Example:
Origin: Pioneers built their houses and barns out of logs, and they frequently swapped work with one another in clearing new ground. Some frontiersmen would brag about their ability to pull up big stumps, but it wasn't unusual for the boaster to suffer defeat with a stubborn stump.

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Sucking hind tit
 
Meaning: Not getting a fair share.
Example: Since the introduction of Windows '95, Apple Computer has been sucking hind tit.
Origin: Many female mammals have multiple rows of breasts, for example dogs. Typically the rear most pair of breasts is smaller and less developed than the rest. Hence a pup nursing from the rear most breast is likely to receive less milk than other nursing pups. Hind means rear most. Tit is slang for breast.

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Swing the lead
 
Meaning: To be lazy.
Example: Rather than pull his own weight, Manfred swung the lead all day - he was too lazy to pull his own weight.
Origin: This expression is of a nautical nature. The Leadsman, who was assigned to assess the depth of water under a ship, sat "in the chains" (i.e. near the mast shrouds) and swung a lead-weighted depth gauge so that it entered the sea near the bows. If he was lazy he just "swung the lead" without going to the trouble of sounding the depth - calling out an imaginary reading to the Officer of the Watch.

Alternative: This phrase comes from the days of horse drawn wagons. The "lazy" horses would slow down just enough for the load to be carried by the adjacent horse. You can tell when a horse "swings lead" by the angle of the pull bar swings back when the lazy horse slows. Thanks to Matt McNeice.



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