Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings
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Wake up living
Meaning: Good night; having a safe night's sleep.
Origin: In some parts of Africa, people say "Wake up living" instead of saying "Good night".


Wars of the roses
Meaning: Choice of flowers between Richard of York and King Henry for their respective parties.
Origin: The 30-year 'Wars of the Roses' started on May 22, 1455 between the English royal army & rebellious Richard, Duke of York at St Albans (just north of London). According to Shakespeare, the Wars of the Roses gained its name when Richard of York was walking in the garden of the Inns of Temple in London, where he encountered one of King Henry's advisers, the Duke of Somerset. During an argument, Somerset picked a red rose from a bush, saying: 'Let all of my party wear this flower!' In retort, Richard simply plucked a white rose to represent the House of York. Historians disagree on the red rose - some say it was originally a symbol of Henry's great-grandfather John of Gaunt, while others insist that it was assumed by the House of Lancaster by Henry VII only after the wars were over. The 'Wars of the Roses' was coined only in 1829 when Sir Walter Scott used it in his novel 'Anne of Geierstein'. Thanks to 'Tales Of War', pp 278-279, W.B. Marsh and Bruce Carrick.


Watts You See is Watts You Get


Wearing your heart on your sleeve
Meaning: To show all your emotions and feelings.
Example: Some occasions call for you to be wearing your heart on you sleeve, and for other occasions you need to clam up.
Origin: The heart is often used as a symbol of ones feelings of love and passion. To fully display the heart in a conspicuous place like the sleeve is to make ones feelings clearly visible. Why the sleeve is chosen as the place to display the emotions is unclear.

The phrase is used in Shakespeare's Othello, in a line spoken by Iago: "I will wear my heart upon my sleeve" (1.1.65). Iago's plan, in context, is to feign openness and vulnerability in order to gain the trust of Othello, psychologically a powerful move on Iago's part, then use this trust to destroy Othello.

Iago's usage is consistent with the modern usage, except that Iago's intent was to deceive.

Alternative: This phrase originating from the middle ages. When a king's court would hold a jousting match, and a knight was dedicating his performance that day to a woman in the court, he would be given her colors, or a kerchief or something to tie around his arm, to show he was representing her.

Hence the term wearing one's heart on one's sleeve, because knights would joust to defend the honor of a woman they loved or cared for.


Well You're Not Missing Much
Meaning: Nothing to look at, nothing to really know, nothing great, kind of worthless.
Example: So you look at other humour sites than Well, you're not missing much!
Origin: Just when you think you've gone to great effort to do/research something for better understanding, you discover the answer/solution doesn't get you any further to what you wanted to find out. That's the time that you realize you're not missing much. Thanks to Gloria Knee.


Wet behind the ears
Meaning: To be naive, inexperienced and new to a task.
Example: Typically, first time car buyers are wet behind the ears when it comes to negotiating with car salesmen.
Origin: When a baby is born, it is covered with mucous and fluid. It takes a little while for the baby to dry off. Protected areas, such as the area behind the ears, take a bit longer.

"Wet behind the ears" refers to a time shortly after birth before being completely dry. Hence unworldly, naive, and inexperienced.


What's the skinny?
Meaning: What is the story, what is going on, what is happening, what is the background.
Example: What's the skinny on this White water thing?
Origin: This is a shortened version of the "skinny naked truth" which comes from WW2. Skinny in this case meaning "resembling skin" and being redundant with naked. This phrase literally is asking for the naked, unobscured truth.

Alternative: Skinny is defined as inside information. Hence "what's the skinny" literally asks what is the inside information. This definition may derive from the "skinny naked truth".


When snakes wore vests
Meaning: Very long ago.
Origin: Spanish origin.


When the chips are down
Meaning: Tough times, when things are looking bleak.
Example: A bit of advice for you - when the chips are down you need to fall back on a technique I like to call quitting.
Origin: From the practice of using chips as a substitute for money when gambling. When winning you accumulate a lot of chips. But when you lose, your chips dwindle down.


When the crayfish sings in the mountain
Meaning: Never.
Origin: Russian origin.


Whipping boy
Meaning: Someone who takes punishment rightly due to someone else.
Example: The new employee was hired as a whipping boy for the incompetent management team - they needed fresh blood for their blame games.
Origin: In the Middle Ages, in was common practice for a boy of ordinary birth to be educated alongside a prince. If the prince did something wrong, it was not the prince that was punished, but rather the commoner who received the lashes. The whipping boy paid heavily for his 'privileged' lifestyle.


Whistle down the wind
Meaning: To talk purposelessly.
Example: The new Toastmaster member started to whistle down the wind as she had not yet mastered the basics of public speaking.
Origin: This expression relates to hawking where there is little point in releasing the bird downwind.


Whistle for it
Meaning: A request where you are not likely to receive what you want.
Example: Looking for lucky four-leaf clovers is just as useless as whistling for it - just go and ask her for a date!
Origin: Some sailors believed that, on a calm day, the wind could be summoned by whistling. Others feared that such a whistle would raise a storm. To them, whistling was Devil's Music. The current phrase arose since, in most cases, neither a fair wind nor a storm resulted from whistling.


White elephant
Meaning: Something which is a liability - more trouble than it's worth.
Example: The London Bridge became a white elephant. The bridge was relocated to Havasu City Arizona, where it now remains as a tourist attraction.
Origin: From the Burmese belief that albino elephants are sacred. They can't be used for work and they must be lavished with the ultimate amount of care. If the King of Siamh wished to get rid of a particular courtier, he gave a gift of a white elephant. The courtier dared not offend the King with a refusal although he was fully aware that the cost of upkeep of such an animal was ruinous.


Widow's peak
Meaning: A V shaped hairline.
Example: When I was a young man my hairline formed a widow's peak, now it is more like a divorcee's horseshoe.
Origin: The hair of a person laying on their back in an open coffin would tend to fall back over the head, thereby exposing the hairline and making evident the peak.


Wild goose chase
Meaning: Fruitless chase of something.
Origin: This 16th century England phrase relates to a kind of horse race was invented where a lead horse went off in any direction the rider chose. Other riders had to follow at precise intervals, like wild geese following their leader. At first, the saying implied an erratic course taken by one person and followed by another, and was so used by Shakespeare. The meaning changed over the years to take on the current one of a useless or hopeless quest.


Win hands down
Meaning: To win by an enormous margin.
Origin: If a racehorse jockey is so far ahead of the competition that there is no danger he will be passed again, he can drop the reins - and his hands - and let the horse finish the race without spurring it on.


Wing and a prayer
Meaning: Hopeful but unlikely to succeed.
Example: She is driving on a wing and a prayer in that old jalopy.
Origin: During World War One airplanes were still a novelty and untested in war. A "wing and a prayer" was first uttered when an American flyer came in with a badly damaged wing.

His fellow pilots and mechanics were amazed he didn't crash. He replied he was praying all the way in. Another pilot chimed in that "a wing and a prayer brought you back."


Wing it
Meaning: Do something with little or no preparation.
Origin: The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that "Wing It" refers to the hurried study of the role in the wings of the theater.

Alternate: The expression derives from an unprepared stage actor standing in the wings and cramming desperately before hearing a cue that will force him onstage.


With a grain of salt
Meaning: With a healthy dose of skepticism, suspicion, and caution.
Example: Dave has been known to stretch the truth a bit. Take what he says with a grain of salt.
Origin: Salt is now an inexpensive and readily available commodity. But it was once very valuable due to its high demand as a food preservative and relative scarcity.

Salt was thought to have healing properties and to be an antidote to poisons. To take (eat or drink) something “with a grain of salt” was to practice preventive medicine. One would do this if they were suspicious that the food might be poisonous or may cause illness.

The phrase and meaning is thousands of years old, the Latin equivalent phrase is “cum grano salis”.


With bated breath
Meaning: Anxiously, with great anticipation.
Example: The trial decision was awaited with bated breath.
Origin: "Bated" is a shortened version of "abated", which means "to slow down". In the case of "bated breath" this would mean to slow down your breathing or hold your breath.

Curiously, people hold their breath when in anticipation. Perhaps so as not to be distracted by breathing.

"Bated" is no longer commonly used, causing people to believe the expression to be "with baited breath". This common misspelling leads to confusion and strange imagery.


Wool gathering
Meaning: To be daydreaming; not concentrating.
Example: Sarah was gathering wool most of the day, dreaming about that night's date with her boyfriend.
Origin: This expression comes from the days when children were sent out into the hedgerows to gather scraps of wool left by passing sheep. It wasn't a very taxing job, and the childrens' thoughts could easily wander to other subjects.


Work to a deadline
Meaning: A point beyond which a task must not last otherwise the effort will be worthless.
Example: The Vancouver Province works to its dealines to get its daily rag out ot its subsribers.
Origin: The original deadline was a far more lethal line: if crossed, actual death occurred. It existed around the Andersonville prisoner of war camp in the USA at the time of their Civil War. It was a white line drawn around the camp; if any prisoner crossed the line they were shot dead.


Worth its salt
Meaning: To be competent, reasonably skilled.
Example: Not to worry about your new suit, any detergent worth its salt can remove blood stains.
Origin: Today salt is inexpensive and universally available, but that wasn't always the case. Salt has been a valuable commodity in many cultures throughout history.

Salt is sodium chloride. It can be obtained from mines or the oceans. Today salt is commonly mined from large deposits left by dried salt lakes. Modern mining and transportation methods have made salt an inexpensive commodity.

Salt is an effective food preservative and before refrigeration was widely available, the demand for salt as a preservative was much greater. The human body requires salt for the regulation of fluid balance. Salt used as a seasoning adds to the taste of many foods.

Because of salt's high value, it was used as a method of exchange. Roman soldiers received a salt allowance as part of their pay. In fact the word "salary" is derived from the Latin "salarium" meaning "of salt".

To say that someone is "worth his salt" is to say they have earned their pay.


Wrong end of the stick
Meaning: A misunderstanding or distortion.
Example: We're on the wrong end of the stick again - we waited at the airport when the prize arrived at the train station.
Origin: This phrase refers to a walking stick held upside down, which does not help a walker much. Originating in the 1400s as 'worse end of the staff', this term was changed to the current wording only in the late 1800s.

Alternative: The Romans invented the flush toilet, but not toilet paper; and their lavatories were communal affairs, where one would go and chew the fat over the day's happenings with whoever else was in at the time. Personal cleanliness was addressed with a cloth or a sponge which lived in a bowl of water at one end of the lavatorium, and which was passed from person to person by means of a stick. It is easy - if rather stomach-churning - to imagine someone deep in conversation not looking when the stick was passed to them, and therefore getting hold of the wrong end of it. Thanks to Robert Day.

Related Phrase: "Short End Of The Stick"


Wrong Way Corrigan
Meaning: A nickname for anyone who makes a big mistake, or does things backwards.
Origin: On July 17, 1938, Douglas Corrigan took off from Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett airfield in a single-engine plane. He had filed a flight plan for California, but 29 hours later he arrived in Ireland, claiming his compasses had failed and that he had accidentally flown the wrong way. Although Corrigan never quite admitted it, his 'mistake' was a ruse to circumvent aviation authorities who had previously turned down his request to make a trans-Atlantic flight. Corrigan's stunt caught the public fancy - he was given a hero's welcome on his return to New York, and “Wrong-Way Corrigan” became a popular nickname (see 'Meaning' above). Corrigan published his biography, “That's My Story”, in 1938.

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