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;A Dictionary of Catch Phrases ГУМАНИТАРНЫЕ НАУКИ,НАУКА и УЧЕБА Автор: Eric Partridge Название: A Dictionary of Catch Phrases Издательство: RoutledgeГод: 2005 Формат: pdf Размер: 5 Mb Язык: английскийFrequently, catch phrases are not, in the grammarians’ sense, phrases at all, but sentences. Catch phrases, like the closely linked proverbial sayings, are self-contained, as, obviously, clichйs are too. Catch phrases are usually more pointed and ‘human’ than clichйs, although the former sometimes arise from, and often they generate, the latter. Occasionally, catch phrases stem from too famous quotations. Catch phrases often supply—indeed they are—conversational gambits; often, too, they add a pithy, perhaps earthy, comment. Apart from the unavoidable ‘he-she’ and ‘we-you-they’ conveniences, they are immutable. You will have perceived that the categories Catch Phrase, Proverbial Saying, Famous Quotations, Clichй, may coexist:they are not snobbishly exclusive, any one of any other. All depends on the context, the nuance, the tone. rapidshare 0
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A Dictionary of Catch Phrases

ORIGINS An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English Fourth Edition ISBN: 0 4150 5077 4
A DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH Eighth Edition Completely revised, ed. Paul Beale
ISBN: 0 7100 9820 0
A DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG that is, up to 1914, ed. Jacqueline Simpson ISBN: 0 7100 7761 0
*A SMALLER SLANG DICTIONARY Second Edition ISBN: 0 7100 8331 9
* SHAKESPEARE’S BAWDY Third Edition ISBN: 0 4150 5076 6
*A DICTIONARY OF CLICHÉS Fifth Edition ISBN: 0 7100 0049 9
* Available in paperback only


A Dictionary of Catch Phrases
British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present

Edited by Paul Beale

London and New York

1st edition 1977
2nd edition first published in 1985
and first published as a paperback in 1986
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005.

“To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of
thousands of eBooks please go to”
© The estate of Eric Partridge 1977, 1985
Preface to the 2nd edition and other new material;
selection of entries © Paul Beale 1985
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or
by any electronic, mechanical, or other means,
now known or hereafter invented, including
photocopying and recording, or in any information
storage or retrieval system, without permission in
writing from the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Partridge, Eric
A dictionary of catch phrases: British and
American from the sixteenth century to the
present day. —2nd ed.
1. English language—Terms and phrases
I. Title II. Beale, Paul
423′.1 PE1689
ISBN 0-203-37995-0 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-203-38612-4 (Adobe eReader Format)
ISBN 0-415-05916-X (Print Edition)

While fully acknowledging the help and encouragement given to me by my publishers, I dedicate thi; s second edition of A
Dictionary of Catch Phrases, with profound gratitude, to
The entire staff of St Luke’s Ward and its associated clinics: cleaners; auxiliaries; nurses; doctors; consultants; surgeons;
and others in the background—all who were on duty at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, 1–13 April and 30 October– 3
November 1982, and in the clinics ever since.
Without their skills and care I would have been denied the privilege and delight of editing this book.


Preface to the first edition


Introduction to the first edition


Modifications of the original introduction


Acknowledgments to the first edition


Preface to the second edition
Acknowledgments to the second edition


Preface to the First Edition

After a longish period of ad hoc reading and note-making (with, since, a continual ‘spare-time’ reading) I began to write, not
merely compile, this dictionary in September 1973 and completed the writing almost exactly two years later.
I have been deeply interested in catch phrases ever since during the First World War when, a private in the Australian
infantry, I heard so many; in both Slang Today and Yesterday and, 1937 onwards, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional
English, I have paid them considerable—and increasing—attention. Moreover, as I have always read rather widely in
American fiction and humour, I did not start from scratch in that vast field.
But I could not have adequately treated either the catch phrases of the United States or those of the British Commonwealth
of Nations without the constant, faithful, extraordinarily generous assistance of friends and acquaintances and pen-friends. In
the list of acknowledgments, I have named all the more copious and helpful—at least, I like to think that I’ve done so.
Probably there are a few unforgivable omissions; I can but ask forgiveness.
There are, however, three acknowledgments, in a different order of things, to be made right here. I have to thank Newsweek
for permission to quote a long passage from an article by the late John—son of Ring—Lardner; and Mr Edward Albee for his
unqualified permission to quote freely from his perturbing and remarkable plays, so sensitive to the nuances of colloquial
usage. In yet another order, I owe a very special debt to Mr Norman Franklin, who has, a score of times, saved me from
making an ass of myself and, several score of times, supplied much-needed information.
The Introduction is intentionally very brief: I don’t pretend to an ability to define the indefinable: I have merely attempted
to indicate what a catch phrase is, there being many varieties of this elusive phenomenon; a phenomenon at once linguistic
and literary—one that furnishes numerous marginalia to social history and to the thought-patterns of civilization.
Finally, a caution. I have, although very seldom, written an entry in such a way as to allow the reader to see just how it grew
from a vague idea into a certainty or, at least, a virtual certainty.
Late 1976

Introduction to the First Edition

Man is a creature who lives not by bread alone, but principally by catchwords.
R.L.Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque (Part II), 1881
Friends—and others—have often asked me, ‘What the devil is a catch phrase?’ I don’t know. But I do know that my
sympathy lies with the lexicographers.
Consult the standard dictionaries, the best and the greatest: you will notice that they tacitly admit the impossibility of precise
definition. Perhaps cravenly, I hope that the following brief ‘wafflings’ will be reinforced by the willingness of readers to
allow that ‘example is better than precept’ and thus enable me to ‘get away with it’. A pen-friend, who has, for thirty years or
more, copiously contributed both slang terms, on the one hand, and catch phrases (not, of course, necessarily slangy) on the
other, tells me that the best definition he has seen is this: ‘A catch phrase is a phrase that has caught on, and pleases the
populace.’ I’ll go along with that, provided these substitutions be accepted: ‘saying’ for ‘phrase’; and ‘public’ for the
tendentious ‘populace’.
Frequently, catch phrases are not, in the grammarians’ sense, phrases at all, but sentences. Catch phrases, like the closely
linked proverbial sayings, are self-contained, as, obviously, clichés are too. Catch phrases are usually more pointed and
‘human’ than clichés, although the former sometimes arise from, and often they generate, the latter. Occasionally, catch
phrases stem from too famous quotations. Catch phrases often supply—indeed they are—conversational gambits; often, too,
they add a pithy, perhaps earthy, comment. Apart from the unavoidable ‘he-she’ and ‘we-you-they’ conveniences, they are
immutable. You will have perceived that the categories Catch Phrase, Proverbial Saying, Famous Quotations, Cliché, may coexist: they are not snobbishly exclusive, any one of any other. All depends on the context, the nuance, the tone.
Precepts mystify: examples clarify. Here, in roughly chronological order, are a few catch phrases.
The proverbial no one can say black is my eye developed, probably late in the sixteenth century, into the catch phrase, black
is—later, black’s—your eye, you’re at fault, you’re guilty, whence black’s the white of my eye, a nautical protestation of
innocence. Nor is this catch phrase entirely extinct.
I’ll have your guts for garters, a threat originally serious, but in late nineteenth to twentieth century usually humorous, has
likewise had an astonishingly long history. In Robert Greene’s James the Fourth, 1598, we find, ‘I’ll make garters of thy guts,
thou villain’; and in an early seventeenth-century parish register, my formidably erudite friend, Dr Jack Lindsay, discovered
the prototype: I’ll have your guts for garter points. In the twentieth century, the modern form has been mostly a Cockney, and
often a racecourse, semi-humorous threat.
Another catch phrase with an historical background is hay is for horses, which duly acquired the variant ’ay is for ’orses. In
Swift’s Polite Conversation (the most fertile and valuable single literary source of them all), 1738, we read:
Hay, Madam, did you call me?
Hay! Why; hay is for horses.
Nowadays, the catch phrase is usually addressed to someone who has used either hey (as in ‘Hey there, you!’) or eh? for ‘I
beg your pardon.’ This refreshing domesticity—compare, for instance, ‘she’ is a cat’s mother—became, inevitably in its
colloquial form, ’ay is for ’orses, incorporated in the Comic Phonetic Alphabet. You know the sort of thing: ‘B is for
honey’—‘C is for fish’—and the rest of it. Perhaps, however, I should add that, in Swift, hay is a mere phonetic variant of the
exclamatory hey and is therefore associated with eh, whence the entirely natural ’ay is….
A characteristically nineteenth-century catch phrase is Lushington is his master, he’s a drunkard, which has derived from
the synonymous eighteenth to nineteenth-century Alderman Lushington is concerned. Clearly there is both a pun on lush, an old
low-slang term for strong liquor, and on that convivial society or club known as the City of Lushington (recorded by the
indispensable Oxford English Dictionary).
Originating early in the present century, hullo, baby!—how’s nurse? was an urban and civilian jocularity before the
licentious soldiery blithely adopted and popularized it during those extraordinarily formative years, 1914–18. It was spoken to


any girl pushing a perambulator. So far as I’m aware, it had, in the army and the air force at least, fallen into disuse by the
time the Second World War arrived; it does, however, exemplify the wit and the humour that mark so many catch phrases.
A WW2 phrase that has impressed me with its wit (and its realism) is the mock-Latin illegitimis non carborundum, which,
after the war, spread to civilians throughout the British Commonwealth, even to those who had no Latin. Meaning ‘Don’t let
the bastards grind’—idiomatically ‘wear’ and colloquially ‘get’—‘you down’, it is generally supposed to have been coined by
Military Intelligence. To coin a phrase—that figures. (Two other post-WW2 catch phrases.)
But illegitimis non carborundum does not stand alone in its gravity. I’ll cite only two other, at first intensely serious, catch
phrases: the First World War’s hanging on the old barbed wire; and the socially and sociologically, racially and historically,
far-reaching and important creation of the (probably early) 1930s, a catch phrase remaining predominantly grave—to wit, some
of my best friends are Jews, to which I shall attempt to do justice.
Watch how you go!.
Eric Partridge

Modifications of the Original Introduction

I should like to modify—perhaps rather to amend—what I have written about the ‘immutability’ of catch phrases by quoting
from two letters, for I should hate to sound dogmatic on a subject that precludes dogma.
The earlier (1977) comes from Mr Robert Claiborne of New York City and Truro, Mass.:
While sharing your inability to define rigorously a catch phrase, I must cavil at your dictum ‘they are immutable’. See
(among many examples) be good…, before you came…, and better than a dig in the eye…. Indeed, the catch phrase, to
the extent it is a form of folk wit, must, like folk songs, proverbs and the like vary both in time and in space. Thus their
‘immutability’ is relative. I would guess that the longer the life, and the greater the geographical distribution, of a c.p.,
the greater the variation. Granted, with the rise of broadcast communications, many c.pp. will be invented, spread and
disappear without change—but others will, I think, still follow the traditional (and therefore variable) pattern.
This proposed modification has been urged both by several amicable reviewers and by knowledgeable, alert and intelligent
friends, notably Prof. John W.Clark and Mr Vernon Noble. The latter wrote to me in 1978:
As an addition to your introductory note…, I would define a catch phrase thus: An observation or remark—often witty
or philosophical, but not necessarily either—that has ‘caught on’ among a substantial number of people and has been
repeated for a long period. It has tickled the imagination and has been accepted as a truism or as an apt commentary on
current affairs, fashions or attitudes.
If one accepts this definition, it is often difficult to decide which quotation from the field of entertainment is justified
for inclusion. There is no problem with radio and television, because knowledge of these media is widespread; but the
theatre and the music-hall present difficulties, because the audience—taking the country as a whole—was [and is]
restricted. In general, only those theatre and music-hall catch phrases which were snapped-up by the sophisticated (that
is, those who were [and are] able to attend places of entertainment and spread [the phrases] in conversation), and those
repeated in newspapers, [other] periodicals and in books, can be given the distinction: so many had a comparatively
small circulation and a short life.
I really don’t think [that, for instance] Robey’s ‘I meanter say’ or Weldon’s ‘sno use’ can be regarded as [eligible];
partly because of the [reasons mentioned] above; partly because they were not original; nor had they any relevance
outside the theatrical [and music-hall] audiences…. They have long been lost, and they were not current long enough to
merit inclusion.
E.P., 1978

Acknowledgments to the First Edition

I have not counted the number of entries; it can hardly be less than 3,000—a figure that will, I hope, be increased both by my
own further research and by further contributions from my loyal helpers, as well as from all those reviewers and general readers
who will have noticed omissions and defects.
To generous friends and acquaintances and pen-friends I owe much: and of these, perhaps the most helpful have been the
following (an asterisk* indicates a very considerable indebtedness):
*Mr Laurie Atkinson, who has contributed so much to the later editions of DSUE—and so much to this book.
The late Mr Sidney J.Baker, author of The Australian Language.
*Mr Paul Beale of Loughborough.
British Library, the: the staff for courteous assistance.
Rear-Admiral P.W.Brock, CB, DSO.
*Mr W.J.Burke, for many years the head of Look’s research department.
*Professor Emeritus John W.Clark, University of Minnesota, invaluably and from the beginning.
The late Mr Norris M.Davidson of Gwynedd, Pennsylvania.
Professor Ralph W.V.Elliott of University House, Canberra.
Professor John T.Fain, University of Florida.
*Mr Norman Franklin, the Chairman of Messrs Routledge & Kegan Paul. As if he hadn’t already more than enough ‘on his
*The late Julian Franklyn, heraldist and an authority on Cockney custom and speech.
Mr Christopher Fry, welcomely ‘out of the blue’ on several occasions.
*The late Wilfred Gran ville—like Mr Franklyn, an indefatigable helper—who died on 23 March 1974.
Mr Ben Grauer, the well known interviewer (etc.) on American radio and TV—like most extremely busy men, this dynamo
has always been courteous, patient, helpful.
Mr Arthur Gray of Auckland, New Zealand.
Dr Edward Hodnett, American scholar.
*Dr Douglas Leechman, an authority on Canadiana.
Mr Y.Mindel of Kfar Tabor, Lower Galilee.
*Colonel Albert Moe, United States Marine Corps, ret.; over a long period.
Professor Emeritus S.H.Monk of the University of Minnesota.
Mrs Patricia Newnham of Hampstead.
*Mr (formerly Squadron Leader) Vernon Noble, journalist, author, BBC man (ret.).
Mr John O’Riordan, Librarian of Southgate Library, North London, for keeping me supplied with contemporary fiction.
Professor Emeritus Ashley Cooper Partridge, University of the Witwatersrand.
Mr Fernley O.Pascoe of Camborne, Cornwall.
Mrs Shirley M.Pearce of West Wickham, Kent.
Mr Ronald Pearsall, authority on Victorian and Edwardian themes.
*Mr Albert B.Petch of Bournemouth, Hampshire; a good and fruitful friend for many, many years.
*Mr Barry Prentice of Sydney, Australia; copiously and perspicaciously.
Professor Emeritus F.E.L. Priestley, University of Toronto.
Mrs Camilla Raab of Routledge & Kegan Paul.
*Mr Peter Sanders of Godalming, Surrey.
Professor Harold Shapiro, University of North Carolina.
*The late Frank Shaw, authority on ‘Scouse’—the speech of the Merseyside. (See the note at do the other in the
*Dr Joseph T.Shipley of New York; patiently and most helpfully.
Miss Patricia Sigl, an American resident in London; authority on the eighteenth-century theatre.


Mr Lawrence Smith of Totley, Sheffield.
*Mr Ramsey Spencer (bless him too) of Camberley, Surrey.
Mr Oliver Stonor of Morebath, Devonshire; several valuable reminders.
Mrs Margaret Thomson of Bray-on-Thames.
Mr Cyril Whelan of St Brelade, Jersey, CI; contributions of much distinction.
The late Colonel Archie White, VC, author of The Story of Army Education.
Miss Eileen Wood of Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Mr and Mrs Arthur Wrigglesworth, the friends with whom I lived surrounded by comfort and considerateness: he for
unwittingly supplying me with indirect evidence; she for her exceptional knowledge of music, whether classical or popular
(not ‘pop’), including songs.

Preface to the Second Edition

Although this compilation bears the title A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, and that seems the neatest possible summation for
such a rag-bag, I agree with many reviewers, critics and correspondents in rejecting the idea that all the entries herein are
catch phrases. I take a catch phrase to be a phrase having—at least to begin with—a recognized source. That source may be an
individual, most often an entertainer; or a group, by which I mean a show of any sort: music-hall, play, film, but notably radio
or television comedy. A really good catch phrase is a piece of free-standing nonsense; it hardly needs a context.
A fair number of the entries do fall into my ‘genuine’ catch phrase class, but the book includes as well many examples from
the following randomly-ordered and by no means exhaustive list: greetings; toasts; exclamations; exhortations; threats;
invitations; jokes and puns (many fossilized); colourful clichés; popularly accepted misquotations; modern proverbs, adages
and maxims (and adaptations of old ones); euphemisms; well-worn, and also currently bright new, similes and hyperbole; and
some that are no more than vulgar idiom, vivid expressions that took Eric Partridge’s fancy. As he himself wrote (at you can
say that again, on p. 261 of the first edition):
There is no such thing as an inviolable and immutable classification of permanent inter-distinction between any one and
any other of the three groups: catchphrases, proverbial sayings, clichés. What’s more, the almost infinite number—
hence also the variety—of contexts for familiar phrases (a very useful ‘umbrella’ term) means that a phrase can exist
simultaneously in any two of these groups. Language, by its very nature, is insusceptible of being straitjacketed.
Quite right! How do we—should we even try to—distinguish the category (?categories) into which we can place, for
example, she hasn’t got a ha’penny to jingle on a tombstone and he was so poor even his brother was made in Hong Kong?
Which leads me to another point borne more strongly upon me with each successive reading of the Dictionary: so many of the
phrases are actually jibes and insults; how much verbal cruelty seems to amuse us! I haven’t added them up, but it feels as
though over half the entries are in this class.
But who’s counting?, and never mind the quality, feel the width: here are a few ball-park figures. E.P. thought (see
Acknowledgments to the first edition) that he had written some 3,000 entries. He undersold himself; there were over 4,000.
Of these, some 2,500 remain in their original state, while nearly 1,200 have been significantly, and in many cases greatly,
augmented or otherwise amended. A few of the most doubtfully eligible originals have been omitted, and the remaining
entries in the first edition have been so radically re-written as to be virtually new. These last, together with the new additions,
total almost 1,800 entries.
I am only too aware that the coverage of the US field is far from comprehensive (see my remarks at REGIONAL
CATCHPHRASES in the main text), and I can’t help feeling that—despite the magnificently generous efforts of his
American helpers—E.P. was being rather ambitious in trying to cover that area at all. Coverage of British phrases is more
complete, as befits a book that is, I suggest, aimed mainly at British readers. Let it be treated as a chance for those readers to
appreciate a selection of picturesque Americanisms, while displaying for Americans as much of our goods as we can get on
show. The same limitations apply of course to the countries of the British Commonwealth, from which striking examples have
been equally generously supplied.
As well as the 1,500 or so new entries transcribed from E.P.’s notes (handed on to me only two months before his death on
1 June 1979) there is a small scattering for which I am responsible. These latter, and those entries that have been completely
re-written, bear my initials: ‘(P.B.)’. All else is E.P.’s own. For economy’s sake, to compress the original so as to make room
for the new material, I have made much greater use of abbreviation; exact dates of private letters, now no longer accessible,
have been reduced to year only; and the names of the most copious contributors to bare initials. Private sources are always
cited in parentheses; a printed source, if forming the last element of an entry, stands free.
The greatest difference between this and the first edition is the inclusion of an index. The idea was suggested by one of
E.P.’s non-anglophone contributors, Mr J.B.Mindel of Lower Galilee, and the more I worked on the book the more necessary
an index became. I did not want to tamper any more than I could help with E.P.’s last major work, but at the same time I was,
and am, dissatisfied with an alphabetical order which uses non-significant words as leaders (he’s, it’d, she’ll, that, this, etc.):


such an arrangement can only obscure the keywords for all readers except those who know each catchphrase, and all its
variants, by heart. And indeed, when I had compiled the index to keywords, I found that it threw up quite a noticeable amount
of previously unremarked duplication which I was then able to remove; it would be unfair to say that the index thus almost
made room for itself—but it sometimes seemed like it. The index will also enable those readers who think they know of an
omission to be absolutely sure before informing me of it, as I hope they will, for this, like the Dictionary of Slang and
Unconventional English, is a book that should continue to move with the times. For ease of reference the index has been
integrated with the main text, and index entries are as short as they can be; while apparently cryptic, each will lead the reader
to one particular phrase.
The phrases in the Dictionary are a form of verbal shorthand, and it is curious to note what words (=ideas) predominate: by
far the most outstanding, with almost 80 entries (and I leave it to readers to ponder for themselves the implications of this), is
shit. Fourth comes mother, with 45—but poor old father lags way behind with only 15; dogs, 36, outnumber cats, 28, while
the foreign country uppermost in our minds is China, with 18 mentions: clearly it must epitomize all that is most exotic to the
English-speaking world.
The book stands in its own right, but it is intended also as a companion volume to Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang. Some
critics have, to put it mildly, questioned the latter’s claim to be a serious reference work; I am inclined to agree with them, and
certainly I would not arrogate the title for this present compilation. It may in the future come to be regarded as a serious
source for studies of ‘how they lived in those days’, as some of E.P.’s earlier sources already are (Grose, Jon Bee, etc.); I can
only regret that it lies beyond my capabilities to provide an accompanying sound-recording so that future listeners could hear
just what accents and intonations were so vital to the catch phrases.
Meanwhile, for our present generation, may I suggest that this book be regarded—despite the fact that by no means all the
entries are indelicate—rather as a happy browsing area, an amusement arcade for those not ashamed to admit sympathy with a
certain coarse strain in our common humanity, a cheerful earthy thread that links us to the very earliest phrases in the book,
and back, through Dan Chaucer, to Rome, Greece and further still. I strongly suspect E.P. himself of producing the
unrepentantly vulgar parody: ‘a dirty mind is a joy for ever.’
June 1984
Paul Beale

Acknowledgments to the Second Edition

Paul Beale writes:
Every work of this kind is necessarily a co-operative effort; even the great Dr Johnson had a crew of paid helpers. During
the editing of this Dictionary I have had the extraordinary good fortune to enjoy the best of all lexicographical worlds:
autonomy in the right to my own decisions, without pressure or hustle, and the generous, kindly and entirely voluntary help of
a like-minded band of enthusiasts, on both sides of the North Atlantic, and further afield. It would be invidious to rank them
other than as E.P. did: in alphabetical order. I thank on his behalf those whose material I have transcribed from his notes, and
especially those who have continued to supply me with new suggestions and comments since his death on 1 June 1979.
There is, however, one person who deserves my special thanks: Mr Nigel Rees. I owe him particular gratitude for freelygranted permission to plunder his compilation of showbiz catch phrases, Very Interesting…but Stupid!, published as an Unwin
Paperback, 1980. Even a casual glance will reveal how greatly Mr Rees’s research has enriched this present work.
I list below the other main contributors to the second edition and, following precedent, an asterisk marks those whose names
appear most often as sources; a † denotes those who are also acknowledged in the first edition (details above). No private
source lacks acknowledgment in the main text.
* Professor Leonard R.N.Ashley, City University of New York.
*† Mr Laurie Atkinson, first thanked by E.P. in the 3rd edn of DSUE, 1948.
*† Rear-Admiral P.W.Brock, CB, DSO.
* Professor Anthony Brown, Western Carolina University.
*† Mr W.J.Burke.
* Mr Robert Claiborne of New York.
*† Professor Emeritus John W.Clark.
Mr P.Daniel.
Mr S.G.Dixon of North Harrow.
*† Professor Emeritus John T.Fain.
Mr Michael Goldman of Sydenham.
Mr Harry Griffiths, Australia.
Mr P.V.Harris of Southampton.
M.Paul Janssen of Tilff, Belgium.
Dr George A.Krzymowski of New Orleans.
Dr Robin Leech of Edmonton, Alberta.
Mr Simon Levene of London.
*† Colonel Albert F.Moe, USMC, ret.
*† Mr Vernon Noble.
Cdr C.Parsons, RN, ret.
* Lt Cdr F.L.Peppitt, RNR.
*† The late Albert B.Petch who had helped E.P. so long and so faithfully; he, like L.A., was first thanked in the 3rd edn of
DSUE, 1948. He died on 23 March 1981.
* Sir Edward W.Playfair.
† Mr Barry Prentice.
Mr Hugh Quetton of Montreal.
Mrs Ursula Roberts of Hongkong.
*† Mr Peter Sanders.
† Professor Harold Shapiro.
*† Dr Joseph T.Shipley.
Mr David Short.
* Mr John Skehan, Radio Telefís Éireann, Dublin.


Mr Jack Slater of Oldham, Lancashire.
Mr John B.Smith, Bath University of Technology.
*† Mr Ramsey Spencer.
* Mr Eric Townley, musicologist.
* Miss B.G.Trew, Great Doddington, Northants.
* Mr Maurice Wedge, wood, Deputy Editor of the Northern Echo.



Prof. Anthony Brown
abbreviate(d), -ing
Franklin P.Adams (1881–1960), Baseball’s Sad Lexicon, 1936 (?)
John Russell Bartlett, Americanisms, 1848; 2nd edn, 1859; 4th ed., 1877
G.L.Apperson, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1929
Sidney J.Baker, Australia Speaks, 1953
Prof. Leonard R.N.Ashley
Sidney J.Baker, Australian Slang, 1942; 3rd edn, 1943; revised ed., 1959
John Russell Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 14th edn, 1968
Heinrich Baumann, Londonismen, 1887
B.E., Gent, Dictionary of the Canting Crew, 1698–9
Gurney Benham, Dictionary of Quotations, 1907, revised ed., 1948
Lester V.Berrey and Melvin Van Den Bark, The American Thesaurus of Slang, 1942
Miss Betty G.Trew
A.Barrère and C.G.Leland, Dictionary, 2 vols, 1889–90
F.Bowen, Sea Slang, 1929
John Brophy and Eric Partridge, Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914–18, 1930; 3rd edn, 1931;
republished as The Long Trail, 1965
Barry Prentice
Burton Stevenson, Book of Quotations, 5th edn, 1946
E.C.Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, revised and enlarged edn, 1952
John Brophy, English Prose, 1932
circa (about the year—)
Canada; Canadian
John Clarke, Paroemiologia, 1639. Sometimes noted as P
Clarence Major, Black Slang: A Dictionary of Afro-American Talk, 1970 (US), 1971 (UK)
Irvin S.Cobb, Eating in Two or Three Languages, 1919
J.M. and M.J.Cohen, Penguin Dictionary of Quotations, 1960
W.E.Collinson, Contemporary English: A Personal Speech Record, 1927
catch phrase; pl., c.pp.
W.L.Craigie and R.J.Hulbert, A Dictionary of American English, 1938–44


Dict. Aus. Coll.

M.M.Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms, 1950
Helen Dahlskog, A Dictionary of Contemporary and Colloquial Usage, 1971
Oliver Herford, The Deb’s Dictionary, 1931
See Wilkes
Anne Baker, A Dictionary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases, 1854
Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang, 1937; edn quoted is usu. 8th edn, 1984, ed. Paul Beale
edited; ed.; edition (in body of text)
Joseph Wright, ed., The English Dialect Dictionary, 1896–1905
for example
edition of Grose (q.v.), 1823
Edward B.Jenkinson, People, Words and Dictionaries, 1972
elaborated, elaboration
Eric Partridge
Prof. John T.Fain
Peter Farb, Word Play, 1973 (US), 1974 (UK)
John S.Farmer, Americanisms—Old and New, 1889
E.Fraser and J.Gibbons, Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925
John S.Farmer and W.E.Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, 1890–1904
Edith A.Folb, A Comparative Study of Urban Black Argot, 1972
Brian Foster, The Changing English Language, 1968
Thomas (‘Proverbs’) Fuller, Proverbs, 1732
Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, 1732
Wilfred Granville, Dictionary of Theatrical Terms, 1952
J.Y.T.Greig, Breaking Priscians Head; or English as She Will be Wrote and Spoke, 1928
Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785; 2nd edn, 1788; 3rd edn, 1796; Pierce
Egan edn, 1823
John Heywood, Proverbs, 1546
H.L.Mencken, The American Language, 1921; 2nd edn, 1922; 4th edn, 1936; Supp. 1=Supplement One,
1945; Supp. 2 =Supplement Two, 1948
Alfred A.Holt, Phrase Origins, 1936
J.L.Hunt and A.G.Pringle, Service Slang, 1943
John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary, 1859; 2nd edn, 1860; 3rd edn, 1864; 4th edn, 1870; 5th edn,
James Howell, Proverbs, 1659
ibidem, in the same authority or book
Godfrey Irwin, American Tramp and Underworld Songs and Slang, 1931
John Jamieson, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 1808
Paul Janssen
‘Jon Bee’, Dictionary, 1823



Prof. John W.Clark
James Kelly, Collection of Scottish Proverbs, 1721
Laurie Atkinson
The Lexicon Balatronicum, 1811; repub’d 1971, 1981
in or at the passage or book cited
T.Lyell, Slang, Phrase and Idiom in Colloquial English, 1931
James Maitland, The American Slang Dictionary, 1891
Charles Mackay’s essay ‘Popular Follies of Great Cities’, in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions,
1841. Available in reprint
G.H.McKnight, English Words and Their Background, 1923
J.Manchon, Le Slang, 1923
George Matsell, Vocabulum, 1859
Merchant Navy
Col. Albert F.Moe
W.T.Moncrieff, Tom and Jerry, or Life in London (a comedy), 1821
Vernon Noble
New Zealand
Sidney J.Baker, New Zealand Slang, 1941
The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 3rd edn, 1970
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The Oxford Dictionary, OED Supp.: Supplement, 1933
origin; original; originate(d); originating
See Clarke
Paul Beale
Lt Cdr F.L.Peppitt
Albert B.Petch
Francis Grose, A Proverbial Glossary, 1787
E.Partridge, W.Granville and F.Roberts, A Dictionary of Forces’ Slang: 1939–45, 1948
preceding (see prec.=see the preceding entry)
Royal Air Force
John (‘Proverbial’) Ray, English Proverbs, 1670; 2nd edn, 1678; enlarged edn, 1813
Robert Claiborne
Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Navy
Ramsey Spencer
Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation, 1738, in E.P.’s edn, 1963
William Safire, The New Language of Politics, 1968 Sailors’ Slang Wilfred Granville, A Dictionary of
Sailors’ Slang, 1962



Peter Sanders
L: scilicet, namely
Standard English
Frank Shaw
Prof. Joseph T.Shipley
John Skehan
Wilfred Granville, Sea Slang of the Twentieth Century, 1945
Burton Stevenson, Dictionary of Quotations, 5th edn, 1946
Eric Partridge, Slang Today and Yesterday, 1933
synonym; synonymous with
R.H.Thornton, American Glossary, 1912
Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of the Underworld, 2nd edn, 1961; U3=3rd edn supplement, 1968
United Kingdom; also as adjective, British
United States of America; also as adjective, American
Schele de Vere, Americanisms, 1871; 2nd edn, 1872
variant; variation
John Hardy Vaux, ‘Glossary of Cant’, in Memoirs, written c. 1812, pub’d 1818
Nigel Rees, Very Interesting… But Stupid: Catchphrases from the World of Entertainment, 1980
J.Redding Ware, Passing English, 1909
Noah Webster (1758–1843). The Living Webster Encyclopedia of the English Language; American
Dictionary of the English Language, 1828; Webster’s New International Dictionary, 1909, 2nd edn, 1934;
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 3rd edn
Maurice Wedgewood
Ernest Weekley, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, 1921
H.Wentworth and S.B.Flexner, A Dictionary of American Slang, 1960; 2nd Supplemented edn, 1975
G.A.Wilkes, Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms, 1978
C.H.Ward-Jackson, It’s a Piece of Cake, or RAF Slang Made
Easy, 1943
Mr W.J.Burke
First World War (1914–18)
Second World War (1939–45)
Henry Yule and A.C.Burnell, Hobson-Jobson, 1886: edn by W. Crooke, 1903
signifies that the entry so enclosed, although doubtfully eligible, is yet worthy of comment
signifies that the key phrase is frequently preceded by he (or whatever word appears in parentheses)


A. See: what does ‘A’.
A.C.A.B. ‘In New Society, mid-1977, there was an article by a Newcastle journalist, who had been arrested at an industrialdispute “demo”. He spent the night in cells and was fascinated by the graffito A.C.A.B. all over the walls. A fellow inmate,
more used to the situation, explained, “All coppers are bastards”. This has now appeared on walls near the Loughborough
police station. Another written c.p., like “—rule(s) O.K.”’ (P.B., 1977). By a ‘written c.p.’ is meant a catchphrase customarily
written rather than spoken; yet only marginally so. And the date of A.C.A.B.? In this form, the phrase hardly precedes 1970,
but, spoken in full, it existed at least as early as the 1920s. Basically, however, all coppers are bastards, q.v., is a mere var.
of ’ [All those in authority] are bastards’: an age-old expression of resentment against the restrainers, the keepers of law and
order, no matter how inoffensive, how innocent the latter may be.
à d’autres! Tell that to the Marines! It occurs in Shadwell, The Sullen Lovers, 1668, Act IV: ‘Ninny. Pshaw, pshaw, ad’autre,
ad’autre, I can’t abide you should put your tricks upon me’—glossed thus by George Saintsbury in his edn of four Shadwell
plays: ‘I.e. “à d’autres” (“tell someone else that”).’ It was a specially fashionable French catchword among English coxcombs
and coquettes of the time. See Dryden’s Marriage à la Mode, 1673. In short, fashionable in the fashionable London of c.
Abbott. See: hey, A.
abbrev. See: excuse my a.
abdabs. See: don’t come the old.
abdomen. See: officers have.
aboard. See: welcome.
Abos. See: give it back.
about. See: you’re all a.
about as high as three penn’orth (or pennyworth) of coppers. C.p. applied to very short persons: c. 1870–1950. As
sixpenn’orth it had occurred in Robert Surtees, Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities, 1838, as R.C. reminds me.
about as much use as two men gone sick, with prec. he’s either stated or understood, is a British Army c.p., dating from either
during or very soon after WW2. (P.B., 1974.) See also headache…
absolutely, Mr Gallagher?—Positively, Mr Sheean! had ‘some vogue in US from 1920s, from the vaudeville team of
Gallagher and Sheean. Virtually extinct by 1950s’ (R.C., 1977). It spread to Aus., where I heard it in 1920s, and presumably also
to Can. and the UK.
Abyssinia! belongs to ONE-WORD CATCH PHRASES. It means ‘I’ll be seein(g) you’ and dates from the Abyssinian War,
1935–6. P.B.: but might it not have arisen from the earlier, British, campaign of 1899, against the ‘Mad Mullah’, or even Gen.
Napier’s expedition of 1868? J.W.C. remarks, 1977, ‘In US, much older than the Abyssinian War; I remember it clearly from
my high-school classmates in the early ‘20s’. Very much in the line of schoolboy puns of the Alaska=I’ll ask her;
Jamaica=Did you make her?; and dip your Turkey in Greece [grease] type.
accident. See: since Auntie: what would happen.
accidentally on purpose. Only apparently accidental, but really—and often maliciously—on purpose: since c. 1880 in Brit,
and since c. 1885 in US, according to W & F, who add that, in the latter, it was ‘in popular student use c. 1940’.
accidents will happen in the best regulated families. See it happens….
according to plan was, in WW1 communiqués, a distressingly frequent excuse for failure, e.g. an enforced retreat; it soon
became used ironically for anything, however trivial, that did not go according to plan. ‘Oh, nonsense, old man! All according
to plan, don’t you know?’ (The Germans, in their communiqués, used an equivalent: planmässig.) In WW2, there was the
similar phrase, withdrawing to a prepared position. In the US, precisely the same process took place—but during the latter
half of WW2 and after (R.C., 1977). Occ. satirised in the absurdity of a strategic advance to the rear (A.B., 1978). Cf.
account. See: that accounts.
acid. See: don’t come the a.


acknowledge. See: I acknowledge.
acorns. See: you’ll come.
acres. See: three acres; wider.
acrobats. See: may all your kids.
act. See: everybody wants; get into; get your act.
act of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen! See time, gentlemen, please!
act to follow—a hard or a tough. (Usu. prec. by he’s or that’s.) ‘Originally, and probably before 1920, referring to an
outstandingly successful vaudeville act which might well cast a shade over the following act, but since at least 1930, applied
to any outstanding performance or especially able person. Often carries the implication, “I’ll try to equal his success, but
don’t blame me if I fail.”’ (R.C., 1978). P.B.: some use in UK since c. 1975. Cf follow that!
act your age! Act naturally—not as if you were much younger than, in fact, you are: adopted, c. 1920, from US, where it had
an alternative—be your age!, likewise adopted. (DSUE; Berrey.) ‘The Australian senses for both include “don’t be gullible”
“don’t be naïve”’ (Neil Lovett, 1978), See also be your age! and grow up!
action. See: sharp’s; slice; that’s where the a.; this is where.
actor. See: born a gentleman.
actress. See: as the actress.
Ada. See: up a shade.
Adam. See: ever since.
add. See: it adds.
admiral. See: tap the a.
Admiralty. See: even the A.; and:
Admiralty could not be more arch-the. ‘The Guardian, 2 Dec. 1977, in a notice of a new London revue that apparently
opened rather coyly, has “The Admiralty, as they used to say, could not be more arch”’ (P.B.). This distinctively London c.p.
of very approx. 1925–60 was clearly based on the adj. arch—teasingly, or affectedly, playful—and the Admiralty Arch, one of
London’s architectural landmarks. Among c.pp., such deft witticisms are regrettably scarce.
admit. See: I acknowledge.
advancing in an easterly direction. (Often prec. by again.) This var. of according to plan, q.v., was ‘used all too often in
the [N. African] desert [in 1940–3], the enemy being, of course, to the west of us-we hoped. The ultimate in cynicism was
“we shall fight to the last man and the last round of ammunition and then withdraw to previously prepared positions”. The
Germans were even worse, making official bombast out of private humour’ (Peter Sanders, 1978; he served there).
advice. See: Punch’s.
aeroplane. See: Percival.
afflicted. See: don’t mock.
afford. See: don’t touch.
afloat. See: he that is; my back.
afraid. See: ‘tis only I; who’s afraid.
after his end (—he’s). This is a C20 workmen’s c.p., applied to a man ‘chasing’ a woman, end connoting ‘tail’, as the var.
after his hole makes clear.
after the Lord Mayor’s show; or, in full, after the Lord Mayor’s show comes the shit-cart. Orig. (late C19) a Cockney
c.p. applied to the cleaning-up (esp. of horse-dung) necessary after the Lord Mayor of London’s annual procession and soon
extended to any comparable situation; hence in WW1 it was, mostly on the Western Front, addressed to a man returning from
leave, esp. if he were just in time for a ‘show’—as ‘the troops’, with a rueful jocularity, described an attack. Among civilians,
it is extant, although not in cultured or highly educated circles.
after you, Claude—no, after you, Cecil! Characterizing an old-world, old-time, courtesy, this exchange of civilities
occurred in an ‘ITMA’ show, produced by the BBC in (I seem to remember) 1940. Although it was already, in 1946, slightly
ob., yet it is still, in the latish 1970s, far from being†.
The Can. version, as Dr Douglas Leechman informed me in 1959, is after you, my dear Alphonse-no, after you, Gaston,
with var. after you, Alphonse (Leechman, 1969, ‘In derision of French bowing and scraping’)—and was, by 1960, slightly
ob., and by 1970, very; current also in US, where, however, it often took the form, you first, my dear Alphonse (or
Alfonso). Note that all of them were spoken in an ingratiating manner.
The latter form, US and derivatively also Can., has attracted much nostalgic attention, mostly from the US. Four days after
this book’s appearance in the UK, W.J.B. wrote: “The characters Alphonse and Gaston were created by the US cartoonist
Frederick Burr Opper [1857–1937] for his comic strip “Alphonse and Gaston”. Readers of this strip [its heyday was 1902–4,
with occ. appearances for a year or two later] often made deep bows to a friend and said “After you, my dear Alphonse” and
the person addressed would reply “After you, my dear Gaston”.’ J.W.C. soon commented that ‘it had a very long life, till c.
1925, and I’m not sure that it is yet quite extinct.’ And then Shipley referred to both Coulton Waugh, who, in The Comics,


1947, noted that these two elegant Frenchmen had become ‘national figures’; and to Jerry Robinson, who, in The Comics: an
Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art, 1974, regards this as the first of innumerable phrases and words that were to contribute
to the American idiom. It was, said Waugh, a comic illustration of ‘the inefficiency of over-politeness’. As a sidelight, Mr
Eric Townley has told me that after you, Alphonse ‘was quite wittily used for the title of a jazz record made in 1957, in which
the instrumentation was two trumpets, two trombones, two tenor saxes, plus rhythm section. First the two trumpet players
alternate with each other in 12-bar solos, each taking three such solos, then the two trombones, and so on. A musical Alphonse
and Gaston!’
And R.C. has noted that a metaphorical Alphonse and Gaston often implied ‘mere buck-passing’. In general, however,
Alphonse and Gaston ‘are immortalised in the American idiom…as a universally understood symbol of excessive politeness.’
P.B.: it would appear, then, that the Claude and Cecil of ‘Itma’ were derived, consciously or not, from Opper’s memorable
after you I come first is a US var. [P.B.: ? perversion] of the prec. (Berrey.) Cf:
after you is manners implies the speaker’s consciousness, usu. joc. and ironic, of inferiority: since late C17; by 1900, ob. —
and by 1940, virtually †. As so often happens, the earliest printed record occurs in S, 1738 (Dialogue II): ‘Oh! madam: after
you is good manners.’ Elliptical for: ‘For me to come after you—to make way for you—is only right.’
after you, miss, with the two two’s and the two b’s. See: two white…
after you, my dear Alphonse (or Alfonso). See: after you, Claude.
after you with the po, Jane! A joc. elab. of ‘After you with (this or that)!’ ‘From mockery of bedroom usage of phrase of
bygone days of outdoor privies. Early C20, perhaps late C19’ (L.A., 1976). I’d date it as c. 1880–1920 in literal use, and in
burlesque allusion for a few years more.
after you with the push! A street—esp. London—c.p. addressed no less politely than ironically to one who has rudely
pushed his way past the speaker: c. 1900–14. Ware.
after you with the trough! Addressed to someone who has belched and implying not only that he has eaten too fast but also
that he has the manners, or the lack of manners, expectable of a pig: orig., c. 1930 or a little earlier, in the N. Country and
still, in 1970 anyway, used mostly there.
again. See: off again; phantom; pick him; play it; Richard’s; sold again; spray it; that boy; you can say.
against my religion—it’s or that’s (or some specified activity). A joc. excuse, as in e.g. ‘It’s against my religion to partake
of alcohol before the noon gun sounds, but since you’re twisting my arm…’, or ‘No, it’s against my religion to subscribe to raffles,
but seeing as it’s you selling the tickets…’; perhaps orig. Services’, but anyway heavy bar-side humour: since mid C20.
In the same gen. field is the c.p. used to parry an invitation to do something risky, for which against my religion might well
be used instead: (Sorry, but) I’m a devout coward. (P.B.)
age. See: act your age; and:
age before beauty is mostly a girl’s mock courtesy addressed to an old—or, at best, an elderly—man: late C19–20, but rarely
heard after (say) 1960.
On entering a room, two people would joke:
‘Age before beauty!’
‘No, dust before the broom.’

(With thanks to Mrs Shirley M.Pearce, 1975.)

P.B.: this entry in the 1st ed. provoked a number of responses, the first being my own, while proof-reading the work, that
usage had, by 1940, come to be extended, esp. as a jocularity between almost any pair of people. E.P.’s further notes
continue: Peter Sanders, 1978, writes ‘Also (one girl to another) “age before innocence”, a bitchy c.p. to which the counter is
“pearls before swine”’; and Prof. Harold Shapiro reminds me that this counter originated as a characteristic retort by Dorothy
Parker (1893–1967). The phrase is still current in Aus. (Neil Lovett, in The National Times, 23–28 Jan. 1978) [as it is in UK:
P.B.]. A further 1978 commentary on its US usage comes from Mr George A.Krzymowski of New Orleans: ‘In his A
Treasury of American Folklore, 1944, its editor, drawing on Clifton Johnson’s What They Say in New England, 1896, has this:
—When two boys in school go for a drink to the water pail at the same time, number one hands the glass to number two and
says “Age before beauty”. Number two takes it, and says, “Men before monkeys”. Number one finishes the dialogue and
keeps up his end by responding, “The dirt before the broom”’.
But, for Brit, usage, the most illuminating comment I have received is this from the Dowager Lady Gainford, 1979: ‘I am
now 78 and I have never heard the phrase used in the sense [above]…. I have always heard it used by an older woman to a
younger who stands aside to let her go first. It is a pretty and graceful way of acknowledging the courtesy—and of accepting it
—instead of the two standing outside a doorway saying “After you”—“No, after you” and so on. My aunts and other older
women used this phrase to me when I was a girl and young woman, and I still use it to women younger than myself. I can’t


ever remember anyone using it in the rather ugly, faintly malicious way suggested by your entry. Where can it have come
from? The elderly man might well say it to the pretty young thing: but surely not the other way round?’
age of miracles is past—the was contentiously used by free-thinkers during C18, challengingly by agnostics during C19 and
by all cynics and most sceptics in C20. By (say) 1918, it had become a cliché; by 1945 or 1946, it was so often employed,
both derisively and in such varied applications, that since then it has been also a c.p. A manifest miracle, yet I’ve never seen it
posed, is recorded in the penultimate paragraph of some of my best friends are Jews.
P.B.: I suggested to E.P. that just as frequent in later C20 is the delighted and surprised exclam. the age of miracles is NOT
past, on the sometimes minor, but nevertheless gratifying, occasions when this is discovered. He agreed, as did Michael
Goldman, who, in 1978, supplied the var. the time of miracles is not past.
agents. See: I have my a.
Agnes. See: I don’t know whether.
agony. See: ee, it was.
agree. See: I couldn’t agree.
ah! que je can be bête! What a fool—or, how stupid—I am! This c.p. of c. 1899–1912 is, by Redding Ware, classified as
‘half-society’, by which he presumably means ‘the fashionable section of the demi-monde’. Macaronic: Fr. que, how, and je, I,
and bête, stupid.
ah there! ‘What can be more revolting than phrases like Whoa, Emma; Ah there!; Get there Eli; Go it, Susan. I’ll hold your
bonnet; Everybody’s doing it; Good night, Irene; O you kid! in vogue’—that is, in the US—‘not long ago.’ Thus McKnight.
ah there, my size, I’ll steal you. In a footnote on p. 566 of the 4th edn, 1936, HLM includes this phrase among half a dozen
of which he says that when the ‘logical content’ of the phrase is sheer silliness the populace quickly tires of it: ‘Thus “Ah
there, my size, I’ll steal you”. “Where did you get that hat?” [q.v.]…and their congeners were all short-lived.’ Obviously it’s
US, but, so far, I’ve been unable to determine, even approximately, how long it did last—or precisely when. Cf. that’s my
aha, me proud beauty! ‘Roughly, “Now I’ve got you [a woman] where I want you!” Orig. (late C19?) quoted from, or at
least epitomising the sexual ethos of, some old-time theatrical villain but, since 1920s or earlier, often used only for comic
effect. Often accompanied by a moustache-twirling gesture. Certainly US, prob. also Brit. Now all but extinct?’ (R.C., 1978),
Yes; Surrey-side, or Transpontine, Melodrama since c. 1890 or perhaps even 1880; † by 1945.
ahead. See: if you want to get.
aid. See: what’s this in aid of.
ail. See: good for what.
aim. See: no ambition; we aim.
‘ain’t’ ain’t grammar is a humorous phrase, elicited by someone’s use of ain’t, as e.g. in ‘That ain’t funny’: since c. 1920.
On its usage in US, R.C. wrote, 1977, ‘A much more elaborate version was current in my schooldays (late 1920s): “Ain’t
ain’t a good word to use, that’s why it ain’t in the dictionary, that’s why I ain’t gonna use ain’t any more”.’ But whether so
long a version can be classified as a c.p. is debatable.
ain’t coming on that tab, usu. prec. by I. (I) don’t agree to that, or with it: orig. Harlem jive talk, very rapidly spread to
popular music, thence to the US world of entertainment: c. 1938–50. (The New Cab Calloway’s Hepsters Dictionary, 1944,
which adds: ‘Usually abbreviated to “I ain’t coming”’.)
ain’t it a fact? and ain’t it the truth? are US phrases dating c. 1910—or earlier—and recorded in Berrey; the latter is also
recorded by McKnight. Both are exclamatory rather than interrogative. R.C., 1977: ‘Usually [it has] a certain rueful overtone
—one wishes it were not a fact. Now ob.’
ain’t it a shame, eh? ain’t it a shame? ‘Another ITMA phrase, spoken by Carleton Hobbs as the nameless man who told
banal tales (“I waited for hours in the fish queue…and a man took my plaice”) and always prefaced and concluded them with
“ain’t it a shame?”’ (VIBS).
ain’t it grand to be blooming well dead!—current in the 1930s, but naturally WW2 killed it-comes from a Leslie Sarony
song of the period. (Noble, 1976.) Clearly a pun on ‘Ain’t it grand (just) to be alive!’
ain’t love grand! expresses pleasure, orig. at being in love, derivatively in other situations; and often either ironically or
derisively. US at first (and still so), it became, c. 1930, also Brit.; I heard it, 1919 or 1920, in Aus. Cf:
ain’t Nature grand (? or !) is a ‘c.p. apposite to anything from illegitimate offspring to tripping over a muddy path’ (L.A.,
1974): late C19–20.
ain’t nobody (or no one) here but us chickens! prec. by there, ‘is applied to an occasion when unexpectedly few persons
are present, but may also be used with the implication “and everybody else had better stay away!”’ (P.B., 1976): adopted in
UK c. 1950, from the US, where it had existed prob. since late or latish C19 and was based on a story about a chicken-thief
surprised by the owner, who calls ‘Anybody there?’ and is greeted by this resourceful reply. Of the story itself, several
variations inevitably exist, and the line became, c. 1950, the chorus of a popular song. That the c.p. is extant appears from this


allusion in Frank Ross, Sleeping Dogs, 1978: ‘And no heroics, O.K.? If anyone comes knocking, there ain’t no one here but
us termites.’
ain’t sayin(g) nothin(g) is an American Negro phrase referring to a matter or person of little merit, respect or value.
Synonym: ’tain’t no big thing, q.v. Recorded in The Third Ear, 1971. Apparently since c. 1950, perhaps a decade earlier.
(With thanks to M.Paul Janssen.)
ain’t that a laugh? Well, that really is a joke: US: C20. (Moe, 1975.)
ain’t that it? This confirms the truth of a statement; in short, telling it ‘like it is’—Cf tell it like it is, and the Brit, equivalent
well, this is it!, qq.v. American Negro: since (?) mid-C20. Recorded in The Third Ear, 1971.
ain’t that nothin’! implies a usu. irritated displeasure, is characteristically US, dates from c. 1920, and derives from—and
forms—the opposite of the next. R.C., 1977, ‘the phrase is dead and buried, and unlamented’.
ain’t that something—or, in rural dialect, somepin’! Indicative of considerable pleasure, this pleasantly terse US c.p. dates
from c. 1918. (Berrey.) J.W.C., 1977, glosses ‘Admiration rather than pleasure generally’. Cf. isn’t that something.
ain’t that the limit? Can you beat that?: US: C20. (Moe, 1975.)
ain’t that the truth? Emphatic var. of ain’t it a fact?: id.: ibid.
ain’t we got fun (? or !) This late C19–20 US c.p. roughly answers to the Brit. We don’t get (or haven’t got) much money, but
we do see life! (Moe, 1975.) It ‘owes its arrival to a popular song of that title’ (Benny Green, in Spectator, 10 Sep. 1977);
Fain, 1977, cites the relevant lines: ‘In the morning, in the evening, ain’t we got fun!/Not much money but, oh honey, ain’t we
got fun!’, and adds that the words and music were by Richard A.Whiting, in a revue, Satires of 1920, prod, by Arthur West.
The title recurred in a couple of motion-picture musicals of the 1950s. Prof. Fain cites American Popular Songs, ed. David
Ewen, 1966. R.C., also 1977, declared it to be ‘moribund, at least’.
ain’t you got no couf? Have you no manners, no savoir-faire, no dress-sense, etc.?: army: early 1970s. Since couf represents
the † couth of uncouth, cf the formation of ain’t ain’t grammar, a deliberate illiteracy. (P.B., 1974.)
ain’t you got no homes to go to? See: time, gentlemen, please.
ain’t you right! This US c.p. was ‘circulating in the year 1920’ (McKnight), esp. among students; it seems to have died out
by 1930.
ain’t you the one though! is a UK ‘deflationary exclamation’, orig. and mostly Cockney: late C19–20. (A reminder from R.C.,
1977.) P.B.: contrast the usu. admiring ‘Ooh, you are a one!’, of someone mildly daring.
ain’t you (or yer) wild you (or ye’) can’t get at it? was, c. 1910–30, loudly and jeeringly intoned, at young girls passing, by
Cockney adolescent youths, as Julian Franklyn told me in 1968. From the louts, who usu. added yer muvver’s sewn yer draws
up, it ascended, c, 1920, to Cockney children as a ‘taunting call, especially by children able to keep some desired object to
themselves’ (L.A., also 1968).
air. See: come up for; give it air; that sure; you’ll have no.
air force. See: they can make.
Airedale. See: don’t be an A.
airship. See: you’ll have no.
aisles. See: I had ‘em.
Akeybo. See: beats Akeybo.
Al. See: you know me.
Alamo. See: remember the A.
alas, my poor brother! A generalisation of a famous Bovril (beef extract) advertisement, which can be dated late C19—earlyish
20, to judge by this courteous clarification from ‘The Bovril Bureau. News, views and recipes’, Messrs Suson Deacon, in a
letter, 1977, from Miss Judy Regis: ‘“Alas, My Poor Brother” is the most famous of the early Bovril advertisements: it was
designed by W.H.Caffyn and first appeared as a poster in 1896’. It showed a fine-looking bull mourning the brother
quintessenced in a tin of Bovril. (The phrase was recorded in 1927 by the late Prof. W.E.Collinson in his valuable book; I
remember seeing it in the Strand Magazine, where so many famous advertisements appeared— and not a few c.pp.
originated.) Cf. prevents that sinking feeling, q.v.
alcohol. See: protocol.
Alderman Lushington is concerned and Lushington is his master, respectively ‘Well, he drinks, you know’ and ‘He’s a
hopeless drunkard’—indeed Lushington (or lushington) soon came to mean ‘drunkard’. The former belongs to c. 1780–1900,
the latter to c. 1825–90. Perhaps a pun on the low-slang lush, strong liquor, and Lushington, the brewer; with influence from
the City of Lushington, a convivial society that, flourishing c. 1750–1895, is recorded by OED. This use of concerned occurs
in several C18–19 c.pp.
’alf (orig. spelt ’arf) a mo, Kaiser! belongs to the years 1915–18: it was, in fact, a 1915–16 recruiting poster thus captioned,
the picture showing ‘a “Tommy” lighting a cigarette prior to unslinging his rifle and going into action. The catch phrase was
widely adopted in England’ (F & G). Cf. Kitchener wants you. The phrase survived, in civilian use, until the late 1930s, and
not only in UK.


Alice. See: knock three times: up Alice’s.
Alice Springs. See: from arsehole.
Alice, where art thou? ‘was the title of a Victorian song by Alfred (“I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls”) Bunn… It was simply
[this] title that became a sort of catch phrase’ (Christopher Fry, 1978). A true c.p.: I have known it since c. 1908, but it had
been one for 70 or more years before that. By 1950 it was ob.; yet even by 1978, not †. A famous theatrical manager, Alfred
Bunn (? 1796–1860) was known as ‘poet Bunn’; he wrote and translated libretti, and produced the operas of M.W.Balfe,
including The Bohemian Girl, which, 1843, contained the song ‘I dreamt…’ Alice, where art thou? is enshrined in ODQ.
alive and well and living in… See: God is alive and well…
alive-o. See: catch ’em all; still a.; two brothers.
all. See: that’s all; you’re all.
all about. See: you’re all a.; like shit.
all alive and kissing. See: still alive and kissing.
all alone (or all by (one)self) like a country dunny is an Aus. c.p., expressive of loneliness or solitude: since c. 1930, or
more prob. since c. 1910. (Baker, Australia Speaks, 1953; Wilkes, 1978.) Dunny shortens dunnaken, lit, ‘shithouse’; the word
came to England with the Gypsies and was at first an underworld, and at best a low, term.
all ashore as is (or that’s) going ashore! ‘Used, outside of the original context, by e.g., the driver of a car hastening his
passengers—or rather the passengers’ friends—taking over long to say good-bye’ (J.W.C., 1968). Although Prof. Clark is
reporting a US usage, this was most prob. orig. Brit., and perhaps esp. Cockney, dating back to the days of scheduled
passenger liners.
all behind in Melbourne, confined to Western Aus., is applied to persons very broad-beamed; it prob. dates from the late
1940s. (Jim Ramsay, Cop It Sweet, 1977.) Clearly it was prompted by the next group, than which it is far less well known.
all behind, like a (or the) cow’s tail, or like a fat woman, or like Barney’s bull. All are phrases applied to one who is
extremely late, or much delayed, in arriving or in getting something finished (‘Here I am again, all behind like…’). The first
is clearly of rural orig., is prob. the prototype, and may go back to, at a guess, c. 1870, and perhaps much earlier, as B.G.T.,
Northants, suggests. This form, with var. a donkey’s tail, is recorded as an American usage also, prob. approx.
contemporaneous with the Brit. (Berrey, 1942). The fat woman version is often used lit., in Aus., ‘having a very large bottom’,
and may then be shortened to all behind; cf all bum, and the prec. Apparently commoner in Aus. is the 3rd var., from which
the all behind may be omitted; it too is a Brit, ruralism that has emigrated; but see also like Barney’s bull. Further on the fat
woman var., Mr Maurice Wedgewood of The Northern Echo comments, ‘I would guess, late C19–20; familiar [to me] from my
earliest years, the 1920s, in a working-class family reflecting C19 folk culture.’
Fain, 1977, notes that you’re the cow’s tail is, in US, addressed to one who is late, esp. the latest, in arriving at a party:
since the 1930s.
all betty! (or it’s all betty!) It’s all up-the ‘caper’ is over, the game lost—we’ve completely failed: an underworld c.p. of c.
1870–1920; the opposite of it’s all bob or Bob’s your uncle, this sort of pun (Bob—Betty) being not rare in cant; but also
deriving from all my eye and Betty Martin. (Recorded by B & L.)
all bitter and twisted. See: crazy mixed-up…
all bum! was, c. 1860–1900, a street—esp. a London street— cry directed at a woman wearing a bustle; therefore cf all
behind, like a fat woman. For all bum and bustle, see all tits and teeth.
all chiefs and no Indians. Since c. 1950, at latest, has been applied in UK to any concern or establishment that seems to be ‘all
bosses and no workers’, ‘all presidents (or chairmen) and no, or too few, minor executives’, and similar nuances; cf. John
Braine’s var. in The Pious Agent, 1975. ‘“Well, we’re a merchant bank, after all. More officers than privates, so to speak.”’ It
most prob. orig. in US, where, as R.C. remarks, ‘it has certainly been current for many years’; in US it has the occ. var. too
many chiefs and not enough Indians, as A.B., 1978, notes. An Aus. elab. arising early in WW2 was…like the University
Regiment, but this did not long survive the peace. The phrase is unrecorded by Berrey and D. Am., and so, at least for US
usage, I would hazard the guess for date: throughout C20.
all clever stuff. See: it’s all clever stuff.
all come out in the wash. See: it’ll all come out…
all contributions gratefully received, with however small orig. and still often added. Used lit. it does not, of course, qualify;
used allusively or in very different circumstances, it has, since c. 1925, been a c.p., as in ‘“Dying for a smoke! Anyone give me
a cigarette?” A long silence. Then “All I have left is half a cigarette—the one behind my ear. Welcome to that, if you want it.”
No silence. “All contributions gratefully received. Ta.”’ (From a novel published in 1969, Catherine Aird’s The Complete
Steel.) See also small contributions…
all coppers are is a ‘truncated version of the c.p. “All coppers are bastards”, current since, at latest, 1945. This itself is only
the last line of the chanted jingle, “I’ll sing you a song, it’s not very long: all coppers…etc.” Obviously one would choose one’s
company with care before letting this dangerously abusive statement loose, even in jest’ (P.B., 1974). I heard it first in the late
1920s, and I suspect that it has existed throughout C20 and, among professional criminals and crooks, for at least a generation


longer. It is a slanderous misstatement at the expense of an, in the majority, fine body of men, grossly underpaid ever since it
was founded. Cf, semantically, ‘once a policeman, always a policeman’, which is not a c.p., for it follows the pattern of ‘once
a schoolteacher, always a schoolteacher’, a much-exaggerated piece of dogma. Every profession, trade, occupation, has its
black sheep. See also A.C.A.B.
all day! is a children’s and young people’s rejoinder to the query ‘What’s the date-is it the Xth?’ If the question is simply
‘What’s the date?’ the answer is ‘The Xth—all day.’ Arising c. 1890—if not a decade or two earlier—it was, by 1960, very
slightly ob., yet it doesn’t, even now, look at all moribund.
all done by kindness! This ironic late C19–20 phrase occurs in that unjustly forgotten novel, W.L.George’s The Making of an
Englishman, 1914. It is often used in joc. explanatory response to, e.g., ‘How on earth did you manage to do that?’; also as in
‘Not at all! All done by kindness, I assure you’—‘a nonchalant c.p. of dismissal of thanks for an action that is done to
someone else’s advantage’ (Granville, letter, 1969). It seems, as Prof. T.B.W.Reid has (1974) reminded me, to have orig. with
performing animals and the assurances of their trainers. Cf and contrast all done with mirrors.
all done up like a dog’s dinner. See: all dressed up…
all done with (occ. by) mirrors (—it’s). A phrase uttered when something very clever or extremely ingenious has been done.
Wedgewood, 1977, tells me: ‘Late C19–20, from widening popular knowledge-a “knowing” awareness-of stage conjuringdevices formerly accepted with awe. C19 illusion-ists used mirrors in celebrated acts such as Pepper’s Ghost.’ In Noël
Coward’s Private Lives, performed and pub’d in 1933, occurs (Act II) this illuminating example:
AMANDA [wistfully clutching his hand]: That’s serious enough, isn’t it?
No, no, it isn’t. Death’s very laughable, such a cunning little mystery. All done with mirrors.
The occ. var. all done with pieces of string is prob. a derivative influenced by the splendid contraptions designed by W.Heath
Robinson. A US var. is all done with a simple twist of the wrist: ‘also probably referring to a conjuror’s explanation of his
legerdemain’ (R.C., 1977). A.B., 1978, has usefully added that the mirrors, the predominant version, is sometimes prec. by it
must be or it must have been.
all dressed up and no place (US) (or nowhere) to go orig. c. 1915, in a ‘song by Raymond Hitchcock, an American
comedian’ (Collinson): by 1937 it was ob.—as it still is, yet, like all day! above, very far from †.
all dressed up for a poppy show. An occ. var., Brit, rural, of the following collection:
all dressed up like a Christmas-tree or in Christmas-tree order ;…like a dog’s dinner;…like a ham bone;…like a poxdoctor’s clerk; and the US like Mrs Astor’s horse; all occ. omitted in all of them. All done up…or all got up…are fairly
frequent variants, and, in later C20, all tarted up…would be understood as synon.
The like a Christmas-tree version, late C19–20 but almost † by 1970, may be the earliest of the group; it had the WW1
British soldiers’ offshoot all dressed up in Christmas-tree order, which, however, meant specifically in full service marching
…like a dog’s dinner is the best known: dating since c. 1925 in the Services, esp. the Army, it attained considerable
popularity there during WW2 and, c. 1955, spread rapidly among civilians. In Can. it has, since c. 1910, had a var., all dolled
up like a barber’s cat, defined by Leechman as ‘resplendently dressed’. (The former: PGR, 1948; the latter: DSUE.) P.B.:
influences on these phrases may have been dog-robbers, a C20, orig. RN, officers’ term for a tweed civilian suit; and like the
barber’s cat: all wind and piss!
…like a ham bone, dating since c. 1850 but ob. by 1970, is a very English, esp. a Midlands, c.p. of the domestic kind.
B.G.T., 1978, glosses it thus: ‘It referred probably to the paper frill round the joint when it was brought to table.’
…like a pox-doctor’s clerk, i.e. flashily: current since, very approx., c. 1870, was in fairly gen. use until the 1960s. I heard
it first in the 1920s, but not since WW2. [P.B.: it continued in widespread services’ use at least until the mid—1970s.]
Wilkes, 1978, defines it as ‘dressed nattily, but in bad taste’, claims it as Aus., implies that, as such, it is extant; but I’m
reasonably sure that it went to Australia from England. But a pox-doctor’s clerk, and its var. a horse-doctor’s clerk (without
like) had, in UK, a different usage: ‘These were, in my younger days [1920s—40s] a way of explaining one’s occupation if
some impertinent person asked what you did for a living’ (Anon., letter, 1978). See also the quot’n at if you can’t fight…
…like Mrs Astor’s horse, the horse often qualified as pet (Ashley) or plush (R.C.): Claiborne adds ‘The Mrs Astor in
question was the doyenne of New York society c. 1890; hence presumably dating from that era’; he cites Stanley Walker, Mrs
Astor’s Horse, c. 1935, and implies that the phrase was ob. by c. 1940. Ashley writes, 1979, ‘I think the Mrs Astor is one of
the two wives (Ava Lowe Willing or Madeleine Talmadge Force) of the US industrialist who died in 1912.’
all duck or no dinner. ‘The final fling which may lead to either triumph or disaster’ (Skehan, 1984): Anglo-Irish: C20. Cf.
synon. shit or bust and Sydney or the bush.
all fine ladies are witches: C18. In S, Dialogue II, we find:
LADY SM.: You have hit it; I believe you are a Witch.
O, Madam, the Gentlemen say. all fine Ladies are Witches; but I pretend to no such Thing.


An allusion to women’s intuition?
all gas and gaiters is the shortened—the c.p.—form of ‘All is gas and gaiters’ in Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, 1838–9. In
civilian life, the c.p. is often applied to bishops and archbishops: a ref. to the gaiters they wear and to the facile eloquence
beloved by so many of them: indeed gas and gaiters has come to mean ‘mere verbiage’. But the c.p. was not much used after
c. 1950, until it was notably revived in, and by, the television-to-radio transfer programme ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ (or, as Noble
has described it, ‘fun with the clergy’), which started on 30 Jan. 1967 and ended on 17 June 1971, as Barry Took, author of
the delightful Laughter in the Air, 1976, has informed me. See also attitude is the art of gunnery…
all good clean fun. See: it’s all good…
all hands and the cook, lit. ‘a phrase used in an emergency when every hand is called to guard the herd, when the cattle
are unusually restless or there is imminent danger of a stampede’ (Ramon F.Adams, Western Words, 2nd ed., 1968), it spread,
in the American West, far beyond the cowboys as a general alert—and was occ. used facetiously. Recorded also by Berrey,
all hands on deck! See: man the pumps!
all honey or all turd with them (—it’s). They are either close friends or bitter enemies—they fly from one extreme to the
other. The phrase occurs in Pepys, Diary, 13 Dec. 1663 (R.S.), and is recorded in Grose, 3rd ed., 1796; it may have lasted
until the end of C19, among the less mealy-mouthed, for it seems to have prompted a military var.: B.G.T., 1978, reports an
ex-soldier as saying, ‘Oh, them, they’re either all shit or all shine.’
all human life is there (occ. here)! The ‘there’ version is orig. ‘A News of the World advertising slogan which took on a
certain life of its own in the rest of the world’ (VIBS).
all I know is what I read in the papers, which we owe to Will Rogers, the so-called ‘cowboy philosopher’, is the c.p. form
of the words beginning his ‘letter’ of 21 May 1926: ‘Dear Mr Coolidge: Well all I know is just what I read in the papers’
(Will Rogers, The Letters of a Self-Made Diplomat to His President, 1927): by which he meant that all he knew of events in
the US was what he could glean from the English newspapers. A particular and topical ref. became, as is the way in the
genesis of c.pp., gen. and enduring: and this one has ‘worn very well’, esp. in US, where, very properly, it has always been far
more popular than in UK, not that it’s in the least rare even in Britain. W.J.B. has, 1975, told me that, in the US, it continues
to be very widely used.
The interpretation made above is very British, however natural it may sound. An old friend, Dr Joseph T.Shipley, wrote thus
to me, 1974:
I showed [your ‘item’]…a publisher. He said: ‘This misses the point. Wherever Will Rogers was, the expression means:
“I’m just an ordinary citizen. I don’t read the highbrow journals, the magazines that tell you the news isn’t so; I’m not a
professor: I don’t go to listen to men that call themselves experts: all I know is what I read in the papers—and that
makes me as good a citizen as the next man.”
‘The sentence also implies: “I don’t trust them pernicke-ty persuaders always telling you they know what isn’t so. I
get my facts from the papers, and that’s good enough for me.”’
Then, on his own account, Dr Shipley adds:
(Note the naïve implication: ‘All I know…’ If it’s in the papers, it’s true. A man may try to lie to me; print doesn’t lie!)
The catch phrase ‘All I know is what I read in the papers’ is an implied assertion that all you (i.e., anyone) can know is
what you read in the papers; and my opinion is therefore as good as the next man’s, and that’s the way it is and should
be in this democracy. That’s what Will Rogers felt, and that’s the spirit underlying his humor and a main source of his
A long discussion for a short sentence! But it does mean more than it says. And I think the final implication above
(that the simple man is as qualified a citizen as the self-styled expert) deserves mention.
Yes, indeed!
Sanders, 1978, makes the point, reinforcing the Brit, interpretation: ‘Also “it must be true, I read it in the papers”—a c.p.
used with particular point when talking to journalists and meaning that they’d written more nonsense than usual. Probably
later than 1945.’
By W.J.B. I have been able to conclude the matter of the phrase’s origin: he writes, 1979, ‘Almost every expert attributes
this saying to comedian Will Rogers. I am at present reading a current biography of Herbert Bayard Swope by Alfred Aldan
Lewis entitled Man of the World, 1978.
‘On p. 108…is the following: “Will Rogers once asked Swope how he had acquired his prodigious store of information,
and he modestly replied ‘I only know what I read in the newspapers’. The remark so impressed Rogers that he used it as part
of his monologue in several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies.”


‘I believe this to be a true account. Rogers was a frequent visitor at Swope’s summer home at Sands Point, Long Island,
N.Y., and it is agreed that Swope was one of the best conversationalists in America. An executive editor of the old New York
World, he made it a practice to read daily every newspaper of importance published in the U.S., and [of] the English-speaking
world, for that matter. That is where he got most of his information, and his remark to Rogers was an honest one, a natural
That, I’d say, settles the origin.
all I want is the facts, ma’am. See: all we want
all in my eye. See: all my eye…
all in the mind. See: it’s all in the mind…
all in the seven; all in the twelve. See: it’s all in the seven, and …twelve.
all is bob. See: and Bob’s your uncle.
all is forgiven. See: come back…, and come home…
all is rug. See: all’s rug.
all jam and Jerusalem is a slightly derogatory c.p. directed at Women’s Institutes since c. 1925. Whereas jam arises from the
jam-making contests, Jerusalem refers to Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ being sung at every meeting—less in piety than as a signature.
A very English phrase concerning a very English institution.
Wedgewood agrees, 1977, that it may be ‘slightly derogatory’, but adds that it is ‘interesting to note that the Women’s
Institutes have used it (or approved its use) as the title of a 1977 history of the movement, Jam and Jerusalem, by Simon
Goodenough…: a bold humour that is to the credit of the W.I.’s.’
all join hands and panic! Joc. var. of when in danger…; see also if in danger…
all Lombard Street to a Brummagem sixpence is a c.p., a joc. var. of all Lombard Street to a China orange. Meaning
‘heavy odds’, the original and originating… China orange (a piece of chinaware) has the further variants…to ninepence and
…to an egg-shell; all three variants arose in C19, and all, as c. pp., are †. The ref. is to the wealth of this famous London
street. The idea has a US equivalent, (it is or I’ll lay) dollars to doughnuts, recorded by D.Am. for 1904 in the form it is…, but
ob. by c. 1970, as R.C. tells me, 1977. Note, however, that ODEP treats all Lombard Street to a china orange as a proverbial
saying, which, therefore, it prob. was, at least in origin, and records it for 1832; ODEP also records an apparently short-lived
I’ll lay all Lombard Street to an egg-shell, with date 1752. P.B.: was this last a pun, perhaps?
all mouth and trousers. ‘Noisy and worthless stuff: “He’s all mouth and trousers”’ (David Powis, Signs of Crime, 1977): the
underworld and its fringes: since (?) mid—C20. Cf all wind and piss. (P.B.) L.A., 1964, had noted the phrase’s use on radio
and TV, and E.P. that it is a euph. for all prick and breeches, addressed, as you’re all…, or applied, he’s all…, to a loudmouthed, blustering fellow: since c. 1920.
all my eye (and Betty Martin), often prec. by it’s or that’s. ‘That is utter nonsense.’ The shorter form seems to have been
the earlier, Goldsmith using it in 1768; yet Francis Grose, in his dictionary, shows the var. that’s my eye, Betty Martin to have
been already familiar in 1785. Grose’s form became † before 1900, as did such variants as all my eye, Betty (Thomas Moore,
1819) and all my eye and Tommy (John Poole’s Hamlet Travestied, 1811), this mysterious Tommy recurring, as Ernest
Weekley long ago pointed out, in the phrases like Hell and Tommy and the earlier play Hell and Tommy. The predominant
short form is (tha’Zs) all my eye, which recurs in, e.g., R.S.Surtees, Hillingdon Hall; or, The Cockney Squire, 1845; there, in
chapter XVI, we read, ‘“The land’s worked out!” says another, slopin’ off in the night without payin’ his rent. “That’s all my
eye!” exclaimed Mr Jorrocks.’ Surtees uses it again in Hawbuck Grange, 1847.
I think that the orig. form was all my eye!, which later acquired the var. my eye!: perhaps cf. the slangy and synon. Fr. mon
oeil! which could, indeed, have generated all my eye, if, in fact, the Fr. phrase preceded the English, although prob. each arose
independently of the other and was created by that ‘spontaneous combustion’ which would account for so much that is otherwise
unaccountable in English. The full all my eye and Betty Martin is less used in the 1970s than it was in the 1870s, but ‘there’s
life in the old girl yet’.
Inevitably the and Betty Martin part of the complete phrase has caused much trouble and even more hot air: who was she? I
suspect that she was a ‘character’ of the lusty London of the 1770s and that no record of her exists other than in this c.p. In
The Disagreeable Surprise: A Musical Farce,? 1828, George Daniel makes Billy Bombast say, ‘My first literary attempt was
a flaming advertisement… My next was a Satirical Poem… I then composed the whole art and mystery of Blacking or Every
Man his own Polisher; which turned out all Betty Martin…’ and thus offers us yet another var.; and in the Earl of Glengall’s
The Irish Tutor; or, New Lights: A Comic Piece, performed in 1823 and pub’d c. 1830, the spurious Dr O’Toole says to his
tutor, ‘Hark ye, sirrah, hem—[Aside to him] It’s all Betty Martin. I have demaned myself by brushing your coat, to tache you
modesty.’ ‘Jon Bee’ in his dictionary, 1823, propounded a theory silently adopted a generation later by William Camden
Hotten, that Betty Martin derives from, and corrupts, the L. o(h), mihi, beate Martine (St Martin of Tours), which, they said,
occurs in a prayer that apparently doesn’t exist. Slightly more probable is the theory advanced by Dr L.A.Waddell in his
highly speculative book, The Phoenician Origin of Britons, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons, 1914; to the effect that all my eye and
Betty Martin derives, entire, from L. O mihi, Britomartis, ‘Oh, (bring help) to me, Britomartis’, who, we are told, was the


tutelary goddess of Crete and whose cult was either identical or, at the least, associated with the sun-cult of the Phoenicians—
who traded with Britons for Cornish tin. Such etymologies lose sight of a basic problem: how did—how could—the
Cockneys, among whom the phrase originated, ever come to even encounter either of these two religious and erudite L.
phrases? The relationship appears wildly improbable.
Such energetic ingenuity is supererogatory, these erudite imaginings being inherently much less convincing than the theory
of simple English origin. To me, anyway, all my eye and Betty Martin! no more than elaborates all my eye!; and as for Betty
Martin, well! the English language, in its less formal aspects, affords many examples of mysterious characters appearing in a
phrase and recorded nowhere else. In this instance, however, there was, in the (?) latter part of C18, ‘an abandoned woman’
named Grace, an actress, who induced a Mr Martin to marry her. She became notorious as Betty Martin: and favourite
expressions of hers were my eye! and all my eye, as Charles Lee Lewis tells us in his Memoirs, 1805. Even that immensely
erudite poet, Sou they, remarked, in The Doctor, 1834–7, that he was ‘puzzled by this expression’. (And Mr Ronald Pearsall,
of Landscove, Devon, imparts his erudition to me, 1975.)
In South Africa, Betsy. (Prof. A.C.Partridge.)
E.P. later noted that in Blackwood’s Magazine, Mar. 1824 (No. 86, p. 307) ‘Bill Truck’, in his entertaining naval lowerdeck
serial The Man-o’-War’s Man, has a senior petty officer shout at the seamen attending church parade, ‘Can’t you recollect…
that you are going to prayers?—Come, heave ahead, forward there,—D—n the fellows, they ought to walk one after another
as mim and as sulky as old Betty Martin at a funeral.’ Here, mim is a widely spread dial, term for ‘primly silent, demure’,
while sulky bears the archaic sense, ‘solemn’. There’s a poss. semantic equation with (as) demure as a whore at a christening.
(This I owe to Col. Moe.) P.B.: it may be of interest that in the collected ed. of the serial, pub’d 1843 by Blackwoods, the
phrase has been altered to ‘as mim and orderly as old Betty Martin…’ ‘Bill Truck’ (pseud., i.e. David Stewart, d. 1850) makes
considerable use of the phrases all in my eye; all in my eye and Betty; and all in my eye and Betty Martin. The story, to which
the 1843 ed. carries a foreword dated Oct. 1821, concerns lowerdeck life from the naval mutiny of 1797 to the Anglo-US War
of 1812, and appears to be an authentic, thinly-fictionalised, eye-witness account. Cf the next two entries.
all my eye and my elbow! and all my eye and my grandmother! are London variants of all my eye and Betty Martin:
strictly, the grandmother version stems from the elbow version. The latter is recorded by Ware for 1882, and seems to have
fallen into disuse by 1920; the former is recorded in Baumann, 1887, and was ob. by 1937, † by 1970. Note also so’s your
grandfather!, which, expressing incredulity, has been current since late C19, is still very much alive, although, by 1970,
mildly ob., and has been gen. throughout England.
all my eye and Peggy Martin (—that’s). A C20 (and earlier?) North Country var. of all my eye and Betty Martin. Noble,
1974, glosses it: ‘Romantic nonsense, not to be believed. Long common in the north of England. There probably was a
romancer named Peggy Martin.’
all my (or me) own work is a c.p. only when used figuratively— chiefly when the tone is either joc. or ironic, esp. if
ironically self-deprecatory. Dating from c. 1920, it orig., I believe, in the drawings and paintings displayed by pavement
artists. Cf alone I did it, which is not, of course, synon.
all night in, with the inside out is a ruefully ironic, yet humorous, Trinity House Lighthouse c.p., applied to the four-hour
watch beginning at midnight. Peppitt cites J.M. Lewis, Ceaseless Vigil, 1970.
all on top. That’s untrue!: a.c.p. of the Brit, underworld; dating from c. 1920. The evidence is all—but only—on top; in short,
all over bar (occ. but) the shouting (—it’s). Orig.—the earliest record apparently occurs in C.J.Apperley’s The Life of a
Sportsman, 1842—both the Brit, and the US form was (it’s) all over but the shouting, but in late C19–20 it has predominantly
been…bar the shouting. As c.pp. they developed, late in C19, from the proverbial or semi-proverbial all is over but shouting
(Apperley’s version); the bar form occurs in Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poem, How We Beat the Favourite, 1869, as ‘The race
is all over, bar shouting’. In Henry Arthur Jones, The Manoeuvres of Jane, 1898, near end of Act IV, there is a rare var.:
Well, George, how goes it?
All over, I think, except the shouting.
This is a particularly interesting example, for it is sometimes a genuine proverbial saying and sometimes a genuine c.p.; in
C20, almost entirely a c.p.
The US form, I’ve been very firmly told, has always been all over but the shouting. Yet A.B., 1978, modifies this by stating
that Americans occ. use except.
all over the place like a mad woman’s shit. Used in Aus. to describe a state of complete untidiness or confusion. (C. Raab.)
P.B.: knitting is sometimes politely substituted for shit, and I have also heard the var. custard: all, later C20.
all part of life’s rich pattern! (—it’s or, less often, heigh ho!). This is an ironically resigned, yet far from submissive,
reflection upon the vicissitudes of life. ‘I’ve heard this from more and more unlikely people over the past, say, five years’


Also as ‘tapestry’, and—perhaps the orig. quoted by Nigel Rees in BBC Radio 4 ‘Quote, Unquote’, 18 July 1983, Arthur
Marshall in his persona as games mistress, in 1930s— …part of life’s rich pageant. Given later impetus by Peter Sellers as
Inspector Clouseau, in a film c. 1960.
all part of the service—it’s. See: just part of….
all parts bearing an equal strain. All is well—‘no complaints’: RN: since c. 1930. Derivatively, since c. 1945, it is also
applied to oneself, or to another, lying down comfortably.
all piss and wind, with no ref. to the cat, is the Aus. version of all wind and piss like a barber’s cat, q.v. (Neil Lovett,
all pissed-up and nothing to show (sc. for it) is a working-class phrase addressed—or used in ref. to one who has spent all
his wages or all his winnings on drink: since c. 1920. On the analogy-indeed, moulded to the shape-of all dressed up and
nowhere to go.
all present and correct! All correct; all in order, as in Ronald Knox, Still Dead, 1934, ‘“Is that all present and correct?”
“Couldn’t be better.”’ It comes from the sergeant-major’s phrase, used in reporting on a parade to the officer in charge.
all profit! is a C20 barbers’ c.p., spoken usu, to the customer himself, when no ‘dressing’ is required on the hair.
all promise and no performance ‘is applied to female flirts’ (Petch, 1969): since c. 1920; by the late 1970s, ob. Cf all
all quiet on the Potomac; all quiet in the Shipka Pass and all quiet on the Western Front. The first is the earliest,
although decidedly not the model for the other two. It is, obviously, US: and it naturally arose during the Civil War (1861–5)
from its frequent application—either by Secretary of War Cameron or by General McClellan or, as is probable, by both—to a
comparatively quiet period in 1861–2 on that sector. It enraged a public that wanted action and soon caught on, esp. in joc.
and often somewhat derisive irony; it remained a very gen. c.p. for the whole of a generation and even for some forty years; Berrey
adjudges it to have become † by 1910. (For fuller information, see notably D. Am.)
In the US, all’s quiet—but usu. all quiet—on the Western Front derives ‘from the standard official phrase as issued daily by
the War Department during relatively calm …periods during…WW1’ (Berrey), but as a c.p. it was, of course, applied to
periods or situations devoid of fighting or quarrelling or mere bickering, precisely as in Britain ‘at home and abroad’; indeed,
the US official phrase was adopted from the War Office’s communiqués, which, even during the latter half of that war, roused
the derision and ribaldry of the men fighting it instead of writing about it—it was they who originated the c.p., which persisted
right up to WW2 and is still used. Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen Nichts Neues (Berlin. 1929), admirably translated by A.H.
Wheen as All Quiet on the Western Front and pub’d by Putnam in 1929, reinforced the popularity and still further widened
the use of the phrase. In 1969, J.W.C. wrote to tell me that it was ‘a real c.p., at least in this country [US], in that it is
indiscriminately used, without ref. to WW1’. W.J.B. has rightly suggested, 1978, that I add a ref. to the song All Quiet Along
the Potomac Tonight, pub’d 1864, with words by Lamar Fontaine and music by John Hill Hewett. (Source: Edward B.Marks,
They All Had Glamour.) [P.B.: this song, made known to hearers in UK by the records, mid-C20, of the US folk-singer Burl
Ives, brings out the irony of the ‘all quiet’: all may indeed be ‘quiet’ on the frontline as a whole, but still individual men are
being killed by snipers or by desultory shelling.]
The c.p. all quiet on the Western Front owes nothing to the US all quiet on the Potomac: it was suggested by all quiet in
the Shipka Pass, which, current in 1915–16, refers to-or, rather, was prompted by—Vasily Vereshchagin’s bitter cartoons of a
Russian soldier being gradually, ineluctably, buried in falling snow during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–8; this is a pass
through the Balkan Mountains and was the scene of exceptionally bloody fighting; and Vereshchagin’s paintings acquired a
just fame far beyond Russia. That fame led to a revival of interest in Vereshchagin’s war paintings and cartoons, an interest
culminating in the journalistic, hence also a brief military, c.p., all quiet in the Shipka Pass. (I myself never heard it during
WW1, either on Gallipoli or in Egypt or on the Western Front.)
all right. See: fuck you, Jack; sex is; she’s all; this is a bit; this is all; what’s the matter with father; and:
all right, already! ‘Enough!, shut up!, stop!: Jewish’ (Ashley): US; and Brit., where often used joc. by non-Jews, with a
mock-Jewish accent: later C20.
all right, all right, as in Dorothy L.Sayers, Murder Must Advertise, 1933, ‘“She’s a smart jane, all right, all right”’, is an
intensive tag that may have come to UK from Can., for it appears in John Sandilands, Western Canadian Dictionary and
Phrase-Book, 2nd ed., 1913, as in, e.g., ‘I think I can hold down this job all right, all right.’ How long it had existed in Can.
(not only in the West, I surmise), I don’t profess to know; perhaps as early as c. 1880.
all right! Don’t pipe it! ‘Addressed to a man who speaks too loud, in the manner of a Tannoy [public-address system], for all
to hear when not all should hear’ (Granville, 1970): RN lowerdeck: since c. 1930.
all right for some! (—it’s). ‘Some people have all the luck. A c.p. of disgruntlement by one of the luckless’ (Granville,
1969): C20, P.B.: but the disgruntlement thus expressed is quite often joc. Cf:
all right for you is ironically addressed to those who are worse off than oneself: the fighting Services’: since c. 1940. J.W.C.,
1977, adds this modification: ‘In US, used only—and paradoxically—as an expression of resentment of a slight or refused
favor or an unfair advantage taken; it often carries the subaudition of “We aren’t friends any more” or “I’ll get even with you”;


mainly children’s; older than my memory [say, 1908], and still current (among children seriously, among adults
humorously).’ This interpretation is confirmed by R.C. P.B.: in Brit, usage it may be simply a more personalised version of
the prec., as in ‘It’s all right for you [sc. to laugh, etc.]’
all right, it’s all wrong. ‘Heard on and off (Petch, 1969): Brit.: since c. 1955. But the US form has but all right! added: and it
is glossed thus by A.B., 1978: ‘It indicates frustration …when one has to accept something he doesn’t altogether like, but
which he sees as acceptable in a practical, or a political way to carry out some plan or project. Hughes Rudd, CBS Morning
News Show, often used it’—WW2 onwards-and he has had a very distinguished career as a newsman.
all right on the night (that is, on the first night-the opening night), an actors’ c.p., applied to a bad—esp. a very bad—dress
rehearsal, dates from c. 1870, as its occurrence in Kipling’s Stalky & Co., pub’d 1899 but referring to his own schooldays,
virtually proves (R.C.; R.S.; Granville). It has, since c. 1920, gained a wider acceptance—an application, in the larger world,
to small things going wrong, but optimistically hoped to go right-to judge by its extension and allusiveness in Nichol
Fleming’s Hush, 1971, ‘I’ve always found the soft sell almost irresistible…. “It’ll be all right on the night,” I said.’ This,
perhaps the most famous of all theatrical c.pp., shortens it will all come right on the night, which has a var. it will be all right
on the night.
all right up to now. All is well—so far: 1878—c. 1915: orig., and always, mostly feminine. ‘Used by Herbert Campbell…in
Covent Garden Theatre Pantomime, 1878’, as Ware, himself a writer of light comedies, tells us; he adds that it derives from
‘enceinte women making this remark as to their condition’; the phrase became used also in other circumstances.
all right-you did hear a seal bark indicates a resigned, long-suffering, vocal agreement (and mental disagreement) with
someone who insists that something odd is indeed happening: US: since c. 1950. It was occasioned by James Thurber’s
famous caption and sketch (of a seal leaning over the headboard of a bed and barking as it looks down at a married couple, the
woman insistent and the man sceptical), appearing orig. in the New Yorker and reprinted in one of his inimitable collections of
sketches. R.C. comments, 1977, ‘Never common, I think, and now dead.’ P.B.: the collection was titled The Seal in the
Bedroom, and the caption in full ran ‘All Right, Have It Your Way—You Heard a Seal Bark’. I’m pretty sure that this was
always used as a quot’n from a recognised source, rather than qualifying as a c.p.
all round my hat! was a derisive, orig. and always predominantly Cockney, retort, connoting ‘What nonsense you’re talking’:
approx. c. 1834–90. Perhaps from the broadside ballad, ‘All Round my Hat I Wears a Green Willow’. A derivative sense
appears in spicy as all round my hat, a slangy expression meaning ‘sensational’ and occurring in Punch, 1882.
That comic song, written by John Hansett, with music by John Valentine, was—according to the British Museum Library’s
Modern Music Catalogue—first sung in 1834; it was included in The Franklin Square Song Collection, 8 parts, 1881–91,
pub’d in New York.
Mackay noted the c.p. in his long essay. The phrase and the song became so popular that George Dibdin Pitt’s ‘domestic
drama’, Susan Hopley; or, The Vicissitudes of a Servant Girl, 1841, III, ii, ends with the stage directions: ‘Music…Dicky sings
“All Round My Hat” and leads the Donkey off.’ And in R.S.Surtees, Handley Cross, 1854, vol. II, the chapter titled ‘The Stud
Sale’, we find:
‘Well done!’ exclaimed Mr Jorrocks, patting the orator’s back.
‘Keep the tambourine a rowlin’!’ growled Pigg, turning his quid, and patting the horse’s head.
‘All round my ’at!’ squeaked Benjamin in the crowd.
Cf. queer as Dick’s hatband, q.v.
all round St Paul’s, not forgetting the trunkmaker’s daughter was a book-world c.p. used in late C18—early 19 and
applied to unsaleable books. The OED quoted The Globe of 1 July 1890: ‘By the trunkmaker was understood…the depository
for unsalable books.’ At that period-and, indeed, until ‘the London blitz’ of 1940–1—the district around St Paul’s was famous
for its bookshops and its book-publishers.
all serene!, short for it’s all serene (quiet, safe, favourable), is enshrined in Dickens’s comment, 1853: ‘An audience will sit
in a theatre and listen to a string of brilliant witticisms, with perfect immobility; but let some fellow…roar out “It’s all
serene”, or “Catch ’em alive, oh!” (this last is sure to take), pit, boxes, and gallery roar with laughter. ’M. has the entry :
‘Serene (Eng.). “all serene”, all right; a phrase taken from a comic song and used, when first introduced, on all occasions.
Now it is seldom heard.’ That sharp observer of current speech, R.S. Surtees, in Plain or Ringlets, 1860, chapter LV, writes,
‘On this auspicious day, however, it was “all serene” as old Saddlebags said.’ It was, in England, still being used right up to
all shit and biscuits, like the bottom of a baby’s pram. Very messy and untidy: domestic. (Edwin Haines to P.B., 1962,
with var. like a crow’s nest, all shit and twigs.) Ct all crumbs at all wind…
all shit or all shine with them. See: all honey…
all show and no go (—he’s or she’s). This C20 US c.p. is ‘said of someone who puts on airs with promise of “great
expectations” but who fails entirely or falls woefully short of the goal. [It is] usually a sexual reference to one who teases but
not pleases, or to a racehorse that looks good but performs badly’ (A.B., 1978). Cf all promise…


all singing, all dancing has, since c. 1970, been ‘applied to machines, systems, etc., meaning that they have every possible
elaboration attached. Common in computer circles’. Complementary is bells and whistles, those elaborations, additions,
modifications, which make the systems and machines, e.g. computers, go all singing and dancing. (Playfair, 1977.) P.B.:
Listener, 22 Feb. 1979, applied the term to a new battle tank.
[all Sir Garnet! and all Sirgarneo! All right! Everything is correct and in good order: since c. 1885, the former; since c.
1895, the latter, on the analogy of such locutions as all aliveo; both slightly ob. by 1915, very much so by 1935, and † by
1940. From c. 1890 there existed the Cockney var. all Sir Garny, as in Edwin Pugh, Harry the Cockney, 1912. From the
military fame of Sir Garnet (later Viscount) Wolseley (1833–1923)—almost as famous in his day as Lord Roberts (‘Bobs’)
was in his—who served both actively and brilliantly from 1852–85. He did much to improve the lot of the Other Ranks, who
often debased Sir Garnet to Sirgarneo, whence Sigarneo, whence Sigarno. In the debased forms it was quite common among
Commonwealth troops. (B & P). But I’d say that none of them is a true c.p.]
all smoke, gammon and spinach (occ. pickles). All nonsense: c. 1870–1900. An elab. of the slangy gammon and spinach
(used by, e.g., Dickens in 1849), nonsense, humbug, itself an elab. of gammon, nonsense.
all systems go, ‘literally the statement of readiness for launching manned and unmanned rocket systems for space exploration
from Cape Canaveral, esp. for the moon landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s was popularized through worldwide
television coverage. The words were taken up in Britain [c. 1970] and America [c. 1969] as a c.p. for preparedness for any
endeavour, often used humorously’ (Noble, 1974). DCCU, independently in 1971 after appearing, 1970, in some editions of
Webster, with this example, ‘It’s all systems go here, so let’s take off’.
[all talk and no cider. That’s a great deal of talk and no results’ (Berrey, 1942): US: C20; by 1970, ob., and by 1975 †, as
Col. Moe tells me, 1975. Later, however, he adds that the phrase is ‘of long standing, but still heard occasionally’, and quotes
from Salmagundi. I, 7 (4 April 1807)—where Washington Irving, in ‘Letter from Mustapha Rub-a-dub Keli Khan’, has this
Now after all it is an even chance that the subject of this prodigious arguing, quarrelling and talking is an affair of no
importance and ends entirely in smoke. May it not then be said, the whole nation have been talking to no purpose? The
people, in fact, seem to be somewhat conscious of this propensity to talk, by which they are characterized, and have a
favourite proverb on the subject, viz. ‘all talk and no cider’.
In short, all talk and no cider should perhaps be classified, not as c.p. but as a proverbial saying, apparently from late, maybe
mid, C18. To me it sounds like a mislaid aphorism coined by that master of aphorism, Benjamin Franklin (1706–90)—as in
his Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1732–57. Clearly reminiscent is Artemus Ward’s ‘What we want is more cider and less talk’.
Nevertheless, I have included the phrase in deference to several US friends whose opinion is never to be ignored.]
[all talk and no pussy makes Jack a dull boy puns on the old Brit, and US proverb all work and no play makes Jack a dull
boy, and is a potential c.p. that has not, I think, quite ‘made the grade’. It occurs in John Dos Passos, Chosen Country, 1951.
Here pussy is used in the slang sense, the outward appearance, esp. the pubic hair, of the female genitals, hence woman as sex
object, hence copulation.]
all that meat and no potato