scribbles tagged ‘idiom’

bog standard

Friday, December 9th, 2011 | tags: ,  |

Keys.  Back pocket.  powerful flush.  shhhplinkThere’s an organisation, campaign, called “Bog Standard” that’s promoting better toilets for school pupils. It provides ‘School Toilet” awards. Now there’s a thing! Imagine the bog inspectors coming around to your home…

Accorrding to the UK phrase dictionary ‘Bog standard’ means  “Basic unrefined“.  It’s use was first recorded in the 1960’s by computing and engineering people. There are lots of different and entertaining theories about its origins but no-one seems to know for sure. I learned the phrase as a kiddie and made my own assumptions about it’s origin:

Bogs (toilets) are all very similar – white, s-bend, height, cysterms, raisable seat, raisable lid.  Bogs are boringly similar.  Why not have different colours, different shaped bowls, different cysterns.  So, to me bog standard meant dull, common, functional and uninspiring as a bog

bog standard
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Bob’s your uncle

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 | tags: ,  |

‘Bob’s your uncle’ is a phrase tagged onto the end of a set of instructions or a succesful demonstration – to indicate successful completion. According to World Wide Word’s the phrase is mainly used in the British Commonwealth and probably derives from political nepotism when the Prime Minister Lord Robert Salisbury gave his nephew Arthur Balfour some senior political positions for no clear reason other than Arthur was his nephew. Arthur was good at the jobs so ‘Bob’s your uncle’ appears to mean, dont worry, it will work…

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who’s the cat’s mother?

Sunday, October 17th, 2010 | tags: , ,  |

Using a ‘quick and dirty’  survey of all the British staff (n=3)  in the office at lunch time revealed the reliable result that

she is the cat’s mother

being watchedaccording to all of our mothers. Apparantly the phrase is meant to illustrate the imprecision of the use of ‘she’ to refer to a person, the listener might not be able to work out who is being referred to.  We all agreed that we were taught that it was rude to refer to a person who is present during the conversation as ‘she’ or ‘he’.  The phrase is a rhetorical technique used to point this out because presumably we know the name of the cat, but we don’t know the name of the cat’s mother, who is unlikely to be present. When a person is present you should use thier name as a reference point for example  ‘wendy spilt tea in your keyboard’ as oppose to pointing and saying ‘she spilt tea on your keyboard’.

Though I need to make it VERY clear that I was no actually the culprit, I drank all my tea, all 6 large mugs of it.

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hide your bum

Thursday, October 7th, 2010 | tags: , , ,  |

Lord Hutton’s use of the English language when interviewed on radio 4 this morning was most entertaining. I won’t provide English translations unless requested because the actual meanings were a tad more dull than

  • race for the bottom
  • push problems under the cup


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fantastically ridiculous

Sunday, December 7th, 2008 | tags: , , , , ,  |

DickThe Hexagon Theatre in Reading is running its annual pantomime, Dick Wittington.

Interactive theatre where the audience, predominatly under 4ft tall, get to shout out ‘He’s behind you’, and “BOO!” and hisssssszzzzzz as loud as they want when the clearly marked  baddie comes on the stage.   The baddie in this case was dressed in black leather with a huge fake furry chest,   long tail,   and the name ‘King Rat’.

The pantomime  hero, the principle boy,  is played by a girl wearing tights, no trousers, and thigh length leather boots  who enjoys repeatedly slapping her outer-thigh with her hand and falling in love with the leading lady who is a lady.   A man in outrageous, colourful  costumes plays an unmarried woman,    the ‘Dame’.    A young chap coordinates audience participation, facilitates the storyline and everyone’s happiness.   I’d quite like one of those.

In Dick Wittington there were doses of singing competitions, where volume supercedes musicality,  between the two halves of the auditorium.   Some songs required rather tricky accompanying hand-actions,  during which  I accidently whacked the  lady sitting next to me and generally got everything all topsy turvy.   There  are also some slow,   soppy,   songs in a pantomime.   Luckily, watching the shorter contingent of the audience wave brightly coloured lit-wands around made the soppy songs  entertaining.

For those who enjoy a heated debate, like myself, there were many opportunities to argue with the cast ‘Oh no he isn’t’….’oh yes he is’….      The occassional slap stick humour, outstandingly bad jokes and the Dames costumes that beggar belief ensured the tone of the event stayed firmly in the realm of the fantastically ridiculous.    At one point the Dame wore a dress in the form of what looked like the Tower of London.

Audience  birthdays on the performance day were announced in the penulitmate scene. I’m thinking of relocating my Brithday to mid December.

Plot spoiler (look below the next paragraph)

The plot invariably ends with the leading man (woman) and lady (woman) getting together,   the baddy being converted (normally by magic), and the dame continuing to be a dame.

Plot spoiler over (start reading here)

It was all jolly good fun.   Happy  holiday season.


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tool show

Monday, November 3rd, 2008 | tags: , ,  |

Few events can attract my attention as effectively as a TOOL SHOW.  And a  tool show  in a school playground to boot!.  

Did I walk past this tool show?   No.  I bounced right on in!

Looking for a suitable  large mechanical  warm  treat for my impending birthday.   To my joy,  I was able to handle more tools than you can shake a stick at.
Tool Show

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one over the eight

Monday, October 6th, 2008 | tags: ,  |

Bar‘one over the eight’ is defined by a UK phrases website as ‘the drink that renders you drunk’.

My one over the eight is actually number 3 with weak beer   (under 4.5% alc.)   with Liquor my one over the eight is drink number 2.

These non-trivial life-style details have caused the normally supportive Excel to get a mardy on because 9 does not equal 2 or 3.

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cop some flack

Saturday, October 4th, 2008 | tags: ,  |

I thought I knew what this idiom meant until I tried to verify it online.   This is what I believed:

  • cop. To view,  gather or recieve.
  • flack.    Tiny metalised paper strips dropped from World War II aircraft as a means of interferring with enemy radar that is attempting to identify their position to relay to the anti-aircraft guns.  

In Wendy’s world,   to cop some flack is to be on the recieving end of lots of small irritations that together add up to major disruption.   This interpretation is consistent with  usage of the phrase in forums, blogs and news item titles.

Merriam-Websters 4th and last definition of flack is ‘anti aircraft guns’ or  ‘the bursting shells fired from flak’.   It cites the origin of the main meaning of flack ‘one who provides publicity’  as ‘unknown,   1939’  .   During WW2.      WW2 airplanes also used to drop publicity (propaganda) leaflets,   Dropping  flack and dropping small leaflets have remarkable behavioural,  if not intended funtional, similarity.’s 6th entry for flack cites the meaning of flack that looks most similar to my current understanding of its use

  • Antiaircraft artillery.
  • The bursting shells fired from such artillery.
  • Excessive or abusive criticism.
  • Dissension; opposition.
  • Informal:   Excessive or abusive criticism.
  • Informal:   Dissension; opposition.
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on not doing nothing not being doing something

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 | tags: , , ,  |

Ever since the stranger in Reading pointed out that the locals are prone to using double negatives to indicate a single negative,   rather than a positive,   I’ve been noticing this phenomenon.   Examples

I don’t know nothing about it (Guv)

I didn’t eat none of it

There wasn’t nothing there

He didn’t have nothing to say

I probably didn’t notice this local language because I may not be prone to never using it myself.

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caught short?

Monday, May 19th, 2008 | tags: , , , ,  |

Not ‘are you apprehended by the police for the ghastly crime of insufficient height’ but another clever  euphemism for wanting to go to the toilet.   The city of Westminster has signs to help you out with clever stick-people designs to illustrate the problem for those people who don’t understand the idiom ‘caught short’.     My favourite part of the sign is the invitation to text toilet,   for a toilet.    Hoorah,   no euphemisims there just send a text saying what you need,   effectively the bottom-line…

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shrinking carbon footprint

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008 | tags:  |

I’m on foot,   carbon foot.   because I have no car,   not even a rental,  and even my bicycle is out of action with buckled wheels…

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black and white goods

Thursday, March 20th, 2008 | tags: , ,  |

The 1980’s UK social classification of electrical products divided into ‘white goods’ (fridge, washing machine, Iron, etc) and ‘black goods’ (TV, Hi-Fi etc). This division was reflected in the location of the items in shops and the marketing styles.

The only electrical goods that came with me from America fall outside the colour classification by being red (laptop & camera) or silver (network drive). The new old Wendy House came with some white goods (fridge, cooker, microwave, combination boiler, radiators) and no black goods.

Should I buy some form of black goods?

This is a non-trivial question. Judging by Bang and Olufsen’s website it is a decision the price of a small car. I’m not spending that much money….

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will you be mum?

Thursday, December 14th, 2006 | tags: ,  |

tenth in a  ceremonious series of  Thursday posts about taking tiffin with (black) tea  in the NW USA.

Thursday Tiffin #10 Will you be mum?,

Lets start by assuming you have a pot of brewed, not stewed, tea a china cup and some real milk.  As we have seen  it may not always be possible because one or several of the required utensils or ingredients may well be missing in a NW USA homestead or diner.  

What next?    The  holder of the tea ceremony,  host*, normally pours the tea on behalf of the guests.   In the English working and middle-class circles I  grew up with** it  was possible to offer the honourable role to another guest by asking

would you like to be mum”.  

The offer is a generous one.   As if anyone could replace a real mum!   With this phrase the host conveys trust that the person can pour tea for the guests and distribute the filled cups with suitable polite conversation and without spilling a drop in the process.   A shy person might decline the offer,   a person with great respect for the social skills of the actual host might decline the offer,   someone like me who might miss the cup or spill a drop from the spout while pouring will decline the offer.   Just that the offer was made is flattering.   While in the USA I’ve never actually got to the point where enough of the pre-requisites are in place that I can offer the role to another person.   My tea pots are all tricky little devils that need practiced skills to pour well.   I couldn’t offer the role to a guest because I would be setting them up to spill the tea and that just wont  do,   that’s mean and devious.    A Brit could look at the shape of the spout,   the proportions of the pot and quickly adapt to the peculiarities of my pot.   Here my pots are not sufficiently usable by a novice, I must fix that and a screw driver wont help.    Oh my gosh,   please warn me if I sound a tad too much like Martha Stewart,   it’s frightening.

Assume that when in the NW USA the locals will not understand the implications of being asked if they want to ‘be mother’.

* intended as gender non-specific use of the term.

** Disclaimer:   I have not investigated aristocratic tea practices.    Aristocratic tea practices may involve behaviour codes  that I have not acquired.

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self storage

Monday, May 15th, 2006 | tags: ,  |

A place to store your self.    A hotel where nothing ever happens.  

Self Storage Sign

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“Happy as Larry”

Monday, August 22nd, 2005 | tags:  |

I commented to a US friend that he was "as happy as Larry"
he replied "who is Larry?"
I was stumped…    
stumped?   a cricketing analogy?  It felt like it!   The nearest meaining  provided by the  Oxford English Dictionary  for  Stumped  is "Truncated; abruptly terminated, as if cut short"
Possible explanations for ‘Happy as Larry’:
  1. New Zealand writer:   "The phrase happy as Larry seems to have originated as either Australian or New Zealand slang sometime before 1875…     …Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English, has traced it to a New Zealand writer named G L Meredith, who wrote in about 1875: “We would be as happy as Larry if it were not for the rats”"   (source).    Rats aside,   no-one seems to know why this Larry was happy.  
  2. Australian Boxer:   The above site also suggests the phrase may also  be due to an Australian bare-knuckle boxer (Larry Foley, 1847-1917) introducing boxing gloves to Australia.   Pressumably happy to protect his,   and other boxers’ hands.  
  3. Old English: The above site also suggests a link to an old English word   "larrie" meaning joking, jesting, a practical joke.   This fits well with two other potentially colloquial phrases that I use ‘larking around" and ‘larking about’.    The Oxford English Dictionary calls larking out as a variant on "Larry’s Kin".   It still doesn’t tell us who ‘Larry’ is.
  4. Latin Laurels: Larry could be derived from the Latin ‘laurus’   (Laurel). In name form  meaning "Crowned with Laurels" (Source).   Where receiving a crown of Laurels is an honour like being awarded a prize.    This makes sense to me since  the phrase ‘happy as Larry’ implies very happy like you would be after having been given a honour.   The ‘Crown of thorns’ the Roman’s made Christ wear while carrying his cross was probably a  reference  to their meaning of a Laurel  crown.
  5. Saint: One site suggests that the St. of this name had less reason to be happy "Saint Laurence was a 3rd-century deacon and martyr from Rome. According to tradition he was roasted alive on a gridiron because, when ordered to hand over the church’s treasures, he presented the sick and poor." (Source).  
  6. Lazarus: Another site suggests that ‘Larry’ may have been Lazurus,   pleased about having been raised from the dead     "some speculate that the Larry here is Lazarus, who was supposedly raised from the dead–and who, one assumes, would have been very happy indeed.)" (



Given the number of potentially Christian sources  I should add this phrase to my ‘don’t use for sensitivity reasons"  list.

Wendy larking-around-a-bit

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