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Saturday, 4 September 2010






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Dead as a doornail

The phrase means, 'devoid of life' (when applied to people, plants or animals) or finished with - unusable (when applied to inanimate objects). As to why a 'doornail,' opinions vary a bit. One theory holds that this 'doornail' was not a nail as we know nails today, but rather a broad, flat plate mounted on the outside of the door to serve as a striking plate for the door knocker. Such a 'nail' would be 'dead' because it would be fixed tightly to the wood of the door.

Robert Claiborne, the famous writer of 1970s, had another theory. He noted that until the nineteenth century metal nails were both expensive and rarely used, wooden pegs being the norm. They were only used in the construction of doors, but, usually driven clear through the door and then bent over on the other side, rendering them immovable (and immune to theft). Such nails were 'dead' in the lingo of carpentry because they could never be removed and reused..

Apple of his/her eye

This evocative phrase, meaning a cherished person or object, turns up both in the Bible and in Shakespeare's (A Midsummer Night's Dream). But it's older than either of these.

There was a time when the pupil of the eye was thought to be a solid object and was actually called the apple, presumably because an apple was the most common globular object around. Because sight was so precious, someone who was called this as an endearment was similarly precious, and the phrase took on the figurative sense we retain. .

A barbarian, as we all know, is an uncivilized person This word is not derived from the name of any tribe or cultural group. It comes from the Greek language, and was used to connote any foreigner not sharing a recognized culture or language with the speaker or writer. The word was probably formed by imitation of the incomprehensible sounds of a foreign language ('bar-bar').

When the Greek civilization and culture was threatened by others (e.g. Persian or Gothic tribes) the connotation of violence was added. The Romans inherited this view from the Greeks, and in their encounters with different tribes across Europe usually called those tribes 'barbarians.' As the Roman Empire spread throughout Europe and Northern Africa they encountered various stubborn tribes. Some fought violently against the invading Roman armies, and continued raiding and looting after Roman conquest of their homelands. The Romans, with their well-organized military, regarded these violent enemy tribes as barbarians.

To the bitter end

This means, to the limit of one's efforts - to the last extremity. Here we are dealing with maritime terminology. Nautically, a bit is a post fastened in the deck of a ship, for fastening cables and ropes. When a rope is played out to the bitter end, it means there is no more rope to be used.

Bitter end is in fact where the last link of the anchor chain is secured to the vessel's chain locker, traditionally with a weak rope link. Nowadays it is attached through the bulkhead to a sturdy pin. ([email protected])


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