Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings
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Get a leg up
Meaning: To get a boost or advantage.
Example: I could get up at 5:00 am to get a leg up on my competition, but I don't think so.
Origin: This phrase may incorrectly invoke images of a dog raising its leg.

In fact "Getting a leg up" is from the act of an equestrian receiving help in mounting a horse.

The helper would create a foothold by cupping the hands to heft the rider upward, throwing a leg up and over the steed.


Get one's goat
Meaning: Invoke an angry and emotional response; to aggravate, irritate or annoy.
Example: People in cars often provide hand signals to communicate their dissatisfaction with your driving. They are trying to get your goat, so just smile and wave.
Origin: This may be a mispronunciation of "get your goad". A goad is a pointed rod used to urge on livestock. A modern equivalent of a goad is the cattle prod.

To goad is to stimulate into action. The phrase "goad you on" comes to mind. To "get your goat (goad)" then is to be successful in stimulating a response.

Alternative: The word 'gut' down through the years was altered to goat. When something gets your gut, it upsets you and ties your stomach in knots.

Alternative: Hyperactive racehorses were often given goats as stablemates because their presence tended to have a calming effect on the horses. After the horse became attached to the goat, it got very upset when its companion disappeared - making it run poorly on the track. In the 19th century, when a devious gambler wanted a horse to lose, he would get the horse's goat and take it away the night before the race, thus agitating the horse.


Get the gist
Meaning: To understand its basics, its fundamentals.
Origin: This phrase comes from the old French Gsir meaning to lie, itself having the meaning of something lying within something and being its basis.


Get the kinks out of
Meaning: To rid of difficulties in a system or procedure; to improve one's flexibility after a period of inactivity; to eliminate mental quirks; to remove obstructions from one's path to achievement or success.
Example: Trudy had to do morning exercises to work out the kinks in her neck.
Origin: "Kink" is derived from the Dutch "kink" (twist, twirl), as in a rope, wire, or lock of hair - especially one causing obstruction. This 17th century expression fits all modern connotations - whether mental, emotional or physical.


Get your dander up
Meaning: To get excitedly angry - into a temper.
Example: Don't get your dander up - I'm only doing my job!
Origin: The phrase has Dutch origins where 'op donderen' means to burst into a sudden rage. This, in turn, comes from Donder=Thunder.

Alternative: "Donder op!" in Dutch means: Get out of here! or Hop it! Of course we only say this after we burst into a sudden rage...   Thanks to Idske Mulder.


Get your sea legs
Meaning: To adjust to a new situation.
Example: Moving from hot, humid Toronto to Beautiful B,C,, Ken started to get his sea legs by joining the Vancouver Yacht Club.
Origin: This phrase dates back to the days when sailing ships ruled the high seas. A new sailor was said to have "gotten his sea legs" when he could walk steadily across the deck of a ship in stormy weather.


Gift of the gab
Meaning: Those who talk a lot.
Example: Anne was born with the gift of the gab.
Origin: The primitive Celtic word for mouth was Gab, but the expression is more likely based on the Middle English Gabbe meaning "idle talk". Gab however remains in modern use as the basis of Goblet and the slang Gob for mouth. Gab, for mouth, was known in 1811.


Give someone a break
Meaning: To give someone a chance.
Origin: A "break" was an interruption in a street performer's act used to collect money from the crowd. The term was taken up by the underworld where it came to mean the money collected for a felon on release from prison - he was given a break.

Alternative: "I've had a lucky break" - as related to billiards or snooker.


Giving someone the bird
Meaning: Making a nasty gesture at someone, usually with the middle finger uplifted.
Origin: Originally "the bird" referred to the hissing sound that audiences made when they didn't like a performance. Hissing is the sound that a goose makes when it's threatened or angry.

Alternative: Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous English longbow was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew"). Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, See, we can still pluck yew! Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodentals fricative F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute! It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird." It's still an appropriate salute to the French today! And yew thought yew knew every plucking thing...


Go by the board
Meaning: Circumstances are dire and that a situation is desperate.
Origin: 'Board' refers to one on the side of a ship. If you fall overboard then the situation is indeed desperate and any means of rescue is welcome; finesse and proper behaviour are not relevant.


Go fly a kite
Meaning: Go away; leave; stop bothering me.
Example: Joe's wife tried interrupting his fav pasttime - updating groaners @, so he told her (very diplomatically) to go fly a kite.
Origin: Imagine you’re trying to do some serious browsing @, and someone is really annoying you. There are a lot of expressions that you could shout at him/her that are similar to "Go fly a kite!": "Go jump in a lake!" "Go climb a tree!" "Go fry an egg!" You’re telling the other person that they are a pest, and you’re commanding them to go away and do something else. Flying a kite is an activity that should keep them busy for a while so that you can get your 'work' done.


Going nineteen to the dozen
Meaning: Something or someone is going at breakneck speed.
Origin: This phrase goes back to the time of the Cornish tin and copper mines. These mines were often hit by floods. In the 18th century coal powered, steam driven pumps were installed to clear the water. When working maximally the pumps could clear nineteen thousand gallons of water for every twelve bushels of coal.


Going south
Meaning: On a path to failure, failing.
Example: Revenue has been going South every since we hired the new Sales Manger.
Origin: South is associated with the downward direction, because that is how it is depicted on maps. North is up, south is down. Hence going south is going down. And down is pretty universally associated with poor performance (i.e. falling apart) as in airplanes, swimmers, bicycles, and revenue.


Meaning: A ball game in which competing players (golfers), using many types of clubs, attempt to hit balls into each hole on a golf course while employing the fewest number of strokes.
Example: The Joe-kster considers golf a game of  “cow pasture pool”.
Origin: The word golf probably comes from its original abbreviation for the words “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” In 1457, Scotland (where golf was invented), the Scottish parliament banned the playing of the game - too many men were playing the game, and it was taking them away from archery practice and threatening country security.

Alternative: Golf derives linguistically from the Dutch word “kolf” or “kolve,” meaning “club.” In the Scottish dialect of the late 14th or early 15th century, the Dutch term became “goff” or “gouff,” and only later in the 16th century “golf.” The linguistic connections between the Dutch and Scottish terms are but one reflection of what was a very active trade industry between the Dutch ports and the ports on the east coast of Scotland from the 14th through 17th centuries. Some scholars suggest that the Dutch game of “kolf,” played with a stick and ball on frozen canals in the wintertime, was brought by the Dutch sailors to the east coast of Scotland, where it was transferred on to the public linkslands and eventually became the game we know today. In scottish, golf is “gowf”.


Gone to pot
Meaning: Food that has lost its freshness.
Origin: Dating to pre-Elizabethan England, this phrase refers to pieces of meat that were hardened, on the verge of spoiling - good only for the stew pot.


Gone to the dogs
Meaning: Someone who has worsened in appearance, character or behaviour.
Origin: This is an analogy to the scraps of waste food etc that were thrown to dogs from medieval baronial dining tables. They were of no other use. Thus, if someone is said to have 'gone to the dogs', he is also regarded as worthless.


Good bye
Meaning: A concluding remark at parting.
Example: Goodbye until we meet again!
Origin: Good bye came from God bye which came from God be with you.


Good ole boy


Grandfather clock
Meaning: A clock too tall for the shelf.
Origin: This expression refers to an 1878 song by the Connecticut composer Henry Clay Work entitled My Grandfather's Clock (...was too tall for the shelf, so it stood 90 years on the floor). Before that, this type of clock was known as a "long case".


Graveyard shift
Meaning: Work during the early hours of the morning.
Example: The Joe-kster often works the graveyard shift to post his groaners on After all, the early bird gets the worm!
Origin: In the 1500s, England considered itself to be running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and take the bones to a "bone house", and then reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realized that they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night - graveyard shift - to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be "saved by the bell", or was considered a "dead ringer."

Further Reference: The 1500s


Greased lightning
Meaning: Faster than anything.
Origin: Lightning is fast enough, striking before it can be heard, but greased lightning! This is the kind of American exaggeration for emphasis that British grammarians sneered about through the 19th Century. Like greased lightning (faster than anything) is a British expression - first appearing in the Boston, Lincoln, and Louth Herald on January 15, 1833. The hyperbole is not meant to be taken seriously. Source: “Word And Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson.

Similar exaggerations: As old as the hills; a million thanks.
Related terms: Quick as a bunny; Quick as a flash; Quick as a wink; Quick as greased lightning.


Grin like a Cheshire cat
Meaning: A broad smile.
Origin: The British satirist Peter Pindar (John Wolcot) first used this expression for a broad smile in the late 18th century, but Lewis Carroll popularized it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). The Cheshire cat in the story gradually faded from Alice’s view, its grin the last part of it to vanish.

Alternative: To grin like a Cheshire cat probably goes back much further than Pindar, and the source could be Cheshire cheeses that were at one time molded in the form of a cat – supposedly the cat was grinning because the former palatine of Cheshire once had regal privileges in England, paying no taxes to the crown.

Alternative: Another story relates the expression to the attempts of an ignorant sign painter to represent a lion rampant on the signs of many Cheshire inns – his lions supposedly looked more like grinning cats.

Alternative: The most unlikely yarn credits a forest warden of Cheshire named Caterling. In the reign of Richard III this Cheshire Caterling stamped out poaching, was responsible for over 100 poachers being hanged, and was present “grinning from ear to ear” at each of these executions. To grin like a Cheshier Catling became proverbial and was later shortened to grin like a Cheshire cat.

Alternative: Another fanciful story makes the same Catling the “cat” of the nursery Hi Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle.

Credit to Word And Phrase Origins, Robert Hendrickson, 1997


Gum up the works
Meaning: Screw something up.
Example: If you're not careful, you could really gum up the works.
Origin: This phrase is related to the red gum or sweet gum tree, found in the eastern U.S. Early settlers chewed the sticky sap - especially children who loved its sweet taste. However, getting the stuff out of the tree was virtually impossible to do without getting it all over yourself. So was getting it out of your hair and clothes!

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