up the river. To or in prison, as in They sent him up the river for five years. This phrase originally referred to Sing-Sing Prison, on the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City. So used from about 1890 on, it was broadened to apply to any prison by the early 1900s.
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Hell or high water

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Come hell or high water'?

Any great difficulty or obstacle.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Come hell or high water'?

The derivation of this phrase isn't well-understood. It doesn't appear to allude to any particular thing or event. It it most probably just an impressive-sounding alliterative phrase that refers to things that are obviously difficult to overcome. It is American and appears in many U. S. sources before the first citation elsewhere - which isn't until 1915.

The earliest American reference I can find is from the Iowa newspaper The Burlington Weekly Hawk Eye, from May 1882. This piece, in what Mel Brooks might call 'authentic frontier gibberish', is a reprint from 'The Little Rock Gazette'.

"Since dat time de best ob my friends hab become enemies, an' strangers hab become friends. De debil had brook loose in many parts ob de country, an' keepin' up wid de ole sayin', we've had unrevised hell and high water - an'a mighty heap ob high-water I tell yer."

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What does “cut the mustard” mean?

To cut the mustard is “to reach or surpass the desired standard or performance” or more generally “to succeed, to have the ability to do something.” For instance, Beyoncé really cut the mustard in her new song.

Most often, the phrase is used in negative constructions for when something doesn’t live up to expectations or can’t do the job, e.g., The quarterback couldn’t cut the mustard in the playoffs.

When did we start saying “cut the mustard”?

Cut the mustard appears to be an American original. Evidence for the phrase can be found in a Galveston, Texas newspaper in 1891–92.

The author O. Henry—who spent many years in Texas, where he may have picked up the expression—used cut the mustard in his 1907 collection of short stories The Heart of the West: “I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard.”

What is the origin of the word mustard?

The word mustard itself goes back, via French, to the Latin mustum (English must), which was an altogether different substance. It was the juice squeezed from grapes before it was made into wine. Mustard is so named because the condiment was originally made by making mustards seeds into a paste with must.

What does mustard have to do with excellence?

It’s not clear exactly why we say cut the mustard. Some have proposed literal derivations, such as cutting down (harvesting) mustard plants. Others have suggested connections to the phrase pass muster, when a solider gets approval after troops are assembled together for inspection. Evidence for these origins are wanting.

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Cost an arm and a leg

Meaning: extremely expensive

Origin: The story goes that this phrase originated from 18th-century paintings, as famous people like George Washington would have their portraits done without certain limbs showing. Having limbs showing is said to have cost more.

Bite the bullet

Meaning: to perform a painful task or endure an unpleasant situation

Origin: In the 1800s, patients would literally bite on a bullet to cope with the pain of having surgery before anesthesia was common.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

Meaning: getting information directly from the most reliable source

Origin: This one is said to come from the 1900s, when buyers could determine a horse’s age by examining its teeth. It’s also why you shouldn’t “look a gift horse in the mouth,” as inspecting a gift is considered bad etiquette.

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Turn a blind eye

The phrase “turn a blind eye”—often used to refer to a willful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality—dates back to a legendary chapter in the career of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. During 1801’s Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet. When his more conservative superior officer flagged for him to withdraw, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on to score a decisive victory. Some historians have since dismissed Nelson’s famous quip as merely a battlefield myth, but the phrase “turn a blind eye” persists to this day.

White elephant

White elephants were once considered highly sacred creatures in Thailand—the animal even graced the national flag until 1917—but they were also wielded as a subtle form of punishment. According to legend, if an underling or rival angered a Siamese king, the royal might present the unfortunate man with the gift of a white elephant. While ostensibly a reward, the creatures were tremendously expensive to feed and house, and caring for one often drove the recipient into financial ruin. Whether any specific rulers actually bestowed such a passive-aggressive gift is uncertain, but the term has since come to refer to any burdensome possession—pachyderm or otherwise.

Chow down

'Chow down' was first used by the U.S. military during WWII. 'Chow' is a Chinese breed of dog, that became a western slang term for food due to the Chinese's reputation for eating dog meat. So apropo today!   Someday I guess we'll say "Bat down" LOL

The Acid Test

This term came from the California Gold Rush in the 19th century, when prospectors and dealers used acid to distinguish gold from base metal - if the metal dissolved in a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid, it was real.

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Paint the town red: This phrase likely came from one of the most iconic drunken nights in history. The mischievous Marquess of Waterford took his buddies out drinking in England’s Melton Mowbray circa 1837… and it got wild.The group of lads engaged in a night of vandalism and misconduct, which involved literally painting a tollgate, the doors of many houses, and a swan statue, with red paint. These drunken rascals did compensate the town for the shenanigans, but their crimson parade of chaos was never forgotten.

[Untitled%20(37)_04062020_7357-731w]Andrea Corson



Running amok: You likely use the phrase to describe mangy kids causing havoc, but it began as a medical term in the 18th and 19th centuries. Amok comes from the word Amuco, a group of Javanese and Malay warriors infamous for their heinous killing sprees. Explorer Captain James Cook noted in 1772 that “to run amok is to … sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage.”

[Untitled%20(45)_04072020_15228-731w]The National Maritime Museum



The third degree: We often utter this phrase when someone is ruthlessly interrogated, and though there are several theories as to where the threatening term came from, one suggests that 19th-century NYC policeman Thomas F. Byrnes would jokingly mutter “Third Degree Byrnes” when detailing his aggressive interrogation style. Another theory suggests the phrase originated from the Freemasons, whose pledges are subject to severe questioning and examinations before finally reaching the glorified title of “third degree” members, or “master masons.”


Diehard: Today, we describe someone with an intense faithfulness toward certain beliefs as a diehard, but the idiom referred to a more morbid scenario circa the 1700s. The term was used to describe those who physically struggled the longest while being hanged.It became more popular after 1811’s Battle of Albuera, where British officer William Inglis encouraged his unit by announcing “Stand your ground and die hard … make the enemy pay dear for each of us!” Sadly, 75% of Inglis’ 57th Regiment died in battle and were forever deemed “the Die Hards.”[noose-731w]

 By and large: The sailors of the olden days really were trendsetters, as many of our modern-day sayings have nautical origins, including “by and large.” Since as early as 16th century, the word “large” referred to a ship sailing with the wind behind it. Meanwhile “by” or “by and full” was used to describe a ship that was sailing directly into the wind, which wasn’t ideal. For those old aquatic explorers, “by and large” referred to embarking on a maritime mission in any wind condition. Today, we use the phrase to mean “everything considered.”

[grays-harbor-crew-731w]Mountain Democrat



Resting on laurels: Whether you’ve earned an Academy Award or a doctorate degree, no one wants to be accused of resting on their laurels. The term goes back to ancient Greece’s robust athletes, who would receive crowns of laurel leaves for their achievements at the Pythian Games.


Cat out of the bag: We all “let the cat out of the bag” once in a while, like when you let your friend in on the surprise party being thrown for them. But how is there possibly a connection between leaking a secret and felines? 

It sounds strange because the origin is strange: In the 1700s, it was common for tricksters to switch pigs for common street cats and sell them in bags to unsuspecting victims. The ruse was discovered when the cat literally jumped out of the bag!



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