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idiom // n. 
a group of words established by usage and having a 
meaning not deducible from those of the individual words 
  

 

 

a load of codswallop 
 
meaning: a lot of nonsense, rubbish 
 
origin: 
 
 
 
Codd was a Victorian businessman and wallop was nineteenth century slang for beer. In 1872 Hiram Codd went into business selling lemonade in green bottles sealed with a marble stopper. Beer drinkers thought little of this new drink and gave it the derisory nick-name Codswallop.
example: 
 
people say the world is flat, but this is a load of codswallop, it is of course, round.



beyond the pale
 
 

meaning: 
 
outside of societies limits. Not acceptable conduct 
 
origin: 

 
 
 
 

Pale comes from the Latin word palum, meaning 'stake'. In early English this came to mean a fence which surrounded something such as a cathedral or some other authority. In later times its meaning altered to the limit of political jurisdiction. Life within the pale was civilised, whereas beyond it was considered uncouth and barbaric. Hence one could be said to be beyond the pale. 
 
example: 
 
people who do not contribute to society in any way are beyond the pale and should not be able to benefit from that to which they do not contribute



to put a spoke in someone's wheel
 
 

meaning: 
 
deliberately hinder someone's plans 
 
origin: 
 
 
 
hundreds of years ago cartwheels were made from solid wood. The front wheels of a cart would have holes in them through which a spoke could be thrust in order to prevent or slow the cart from running away downhill. 
 
example: 
 
I had planned to buy a new car but the banks refusal to lend me some money has put a spoke in the wheels of my plan.

 
 
 at the end of my tether 
 

meaning: 
 
at the point of frustration or at the end of one's endurance. 
 
origin: 
 
 
A tether is a rope which is used to restrict the freedom of grazing animals by tying one end around their neck and the other to a stake in the ground. 
 
example: if my boss doesn't listen to me soon I will explode, I'm at the end of my tether.

 
 
to hang fire 
 

meaning: to delay. To be pending
origin: 
 
In days gone by when the main charge in an artillery piece was slow to fire it was said to be 'hanging fire'. Now the term is used to describe something which is held up or delayed. 
 
example: I'd like to go home now but I'd better hang fire for a while until some others leave.



on the grapevine
 
 

meaning: gossip or rumour through an informal channel
origin: 
 
 
 
 
 
In the years after the invention of the Telegraph there was a mad rush to erect telegraphs to as many places as possible in the shortest time. In 1859 Colonel Bee put a line up between Placerville and Virginia City. He used trees to carry the wires instead of telegraph poles. Their movement stretched and tangled the wires until they fell to the ground, looking similar to the wild vines found in California. During the American Civil War messages that were received via the telegraph that were thought to be mis-information or inaccurate were said to have arrived  on the 'grapevine telegraph', a mocking reference to Colonel Bees venture. 
example: I heard, on the grapevine, that John is going to marry Jane.



not enough room to swing a cat 
 

meaning: a confined space
origin: 
 

 
 

Many people incorrectly think that this is a reference to the old Navel punishment of the 'cat of nine tails', however the phrase has been found in use long before that punishment was ever metered out by the Navy. In fact the phrase refers to the practice of putting a cat in a sack then suspending the sack from a tree, swinging the sack and then using it for archery practice. 
example: This room is too small, there's not enough room to swing a cat.

 
 

to kick the bucket 
 

meaning: to die
origin: 
 
In slaughterhouses, the rail on which pigs are hung after slaughter to drain off the blood is known as the bucket bar. Muscle spasms after death sometimes lead to the dead pig twitching as if to kick the bucket bar, hence the expression.
example: Fred kicked the bucket last week. Now that he's dead he will be sadly missed.

 

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Last updated 9th July 1998