Expressions & Sayings

~ B ~

Back number - a person or thing that is no longer of importance or use
Refers to an out-of-date or back copy of a newspaper or magazine.
Back of beyond, the
This is an Australian expression, 19th century in origin, which is now commonly used to describe any remote area, but which originally referred to the vast spaces of the interior of the country, the Great Outback. The back, reduced from back country, is the outlying territory beyond the settled regions. The term backblock is found in 1850, referring to those territories of Australia split up by the government into blocks for settlement. The more isolated and sparsely populated areas of the Australian interior are also known as the bush.
Back to basics
This infamous phrase, meaning to go back to the ground rules, to 'traditional values', was first heard in politics in the 1950s. It probably derived from the expression, used in mathematics and physics, to go back to first principles, with its implication that any calculation, however complicated, has its origin in just a few essential basic rules. Back to basics was taken up by the British Conservative Party in 1993 as an all-embracing political slogan designed to promote family values. John Major, the Prime Minister, launched this ill-fated phrase, albeit with the best of intentions, in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 1993: 'The message from this conference is clear and simple. We must go back to basics. The Conservative Party will lead the country back to these basics, right across the board: sound money, free trade, traditional teaching, respect for family and the law.'
...The campaign soon backfired, not least because of a number of widely publicised sex scandals, characterised as 'sleaze' by the press, within Mr Major's party.
...In America, the phrase back to basics was used in the mid-1970s as a government education slogan to promote better teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Backroom boys - researchers, scientists, etc.
This expression was coined by Lord Beaverbrook, then British Minister for Aircraft Production, in a speech in honour of the 'unsung heroes' of the war effort, made on March 24, 1941: 'To whom must praise be given? I will tell you. It is the boys in the back room. They do not sit in the limelight but they are the men who do the work.'
Back to square one - back to where one started, having wasted time
The most usual explanation refers to the diagram of a football pitch divided into numbered squares, printed in Radio Times from 1927 until about 1940 to help listeners follow radio commentaries on matches. The commentator referred to these squares when describing the progress of play, enabling the listener to visualise it more clearly.
...While it may be true that commentators used the phrase 'back to square one', it would not have meant what it now means: soccer is a game of rapid movement and there is little sense of starting again after useless effort. There is, however, an alternative origin in board games such as Snakes and Ladders in which certain throws of the dice do indeed take the players back to square one, wiping out the progress they have made. This is the more likely origin of the phrase, though football commentators may have popularised it
Back to the drawing board - to have to start again on a project or activity
Refers to the board on which plans of buildings, etc. are drawn before being built. Aircraft designers during WWII used the phrase when a concept or even a whole design for a new machine proved unworkable and had to be started all over again.
Back to the wall (have one's) - to be in a very difficult or desperate situation
Someone being pursued has to face his or her pursuers or be captured when a wall prevents retreat.
Bad books
See In one's black books.
Badger, to- pester, harass
From badger-baiting. Because of their fierceness in defending their burrows against attack, captured badgers were formerly used in sport: a badger was placed in an artificial burrow, such as a kennel made out of a tub, and dogs were set on it in turn to see which could draw it out.
Bad hair day - one of those days when everything seems to go wrong
Originated in the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy (Kristy Swanson) to the one-armed vampire Amilyn (Paul Reubens): "I'm fine but you're obviously having a bad hair day."
Bag and baggage
This started life as a military term. To march out (with) bag and baggage was to march away without surrendering any equipment. It now means 'entirely' though it is still normally used to express the completeness of a departure.
Baker's dozen - thirteen
This has been explained as originating in the 13th century when the price and weight of bread were regulated and the penalties for giving short weight were heavy. Bakers, it is said, used to add an extra loaf to every batch of twelve to make sure that they stayed on the right side of the law.
...This explanation overlooks the problem that few people were ever likely to buy that sort of quantity. A better explanation, dating from 1419, is that dealers and street vendors were given thirteen loaves for the price of twelve, this being an arrangement with the baker to regulate the extent of the middleman's profit or commission.
Bald as a coot - extremely bald
A coot is a small black aquatic bird that has a spot of white feathers on its head, which give the impression that it is bald.
Ball is in one's court, the
See On the ball.
Balls to the wall - push to the limit, go all out, full speed
This is not a reference to the male anatomy, as some would believe, but an expression from the world of aviation. On an aeroplane, the handles controlling the throttle and fuel mixture are often topped with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as (naturally) balls. Pushing the balls forward, towards the wall of the cockpit, is to apply full throttle and the highest possible speed.
Balloon goes up - action (especially trouble) begins
The expression dates from the First World War when observation balloons were hoisted close to the trench-lines so that the enemy positions and movements could be watched; observers were also used to help range their own artillery before a bombardment. The hoisting of balloons was often, for the infantry, a sign that a major attack was imminent, though nowadays 'What time does the balloon go up?' can simply mean 'What time does it start?'
Ballpark figure - realistic estimate
Ballpark is the American term for the playing area of a baseball match. The idea behind a ballpark figure is that of a ball being hit within the playing area where it can be seen, as distinct from being hit out of the ballpark - both out of sight and high-scoring.
...Because of ignorance of baseball among the British, and their willingness to adopt Americanisms without understanding them, this expression is frequently used to mean no more than a very vague estimate.
Banana republic - small country, politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture, ruled by small, wealthy and corrupt clique
Coined by O. Henry (real name W. S. Porter, 1862-1910), the American humorist and short-story writer, with reference to the Honduras. Republic is often a euphemism for dictatorship. Banana implies an easy reliance on basic agriculture and backwardness in the development of modern industrial technology.
Bandy words, to - argue, quarrel, answer back
The word bandy originates from an Old French word bander, which was used in an early form of tennis and meant to 'hit a ball to and fro'. Later, in the early 17th century, bandy became the name of an Irish team game from which hockey evolved. The ball was bandied (hit) back and forth between players. The crooked shape of the stick with which the game was played produced the expression bandy-legged, for someone with bowed legs. It is easy to see how the word bandy came to be associated with arguing in the sense of passing words to and fro.
Bank on - count or depend on
The first banks were in medieval Venice, then a prosperous centre for world trade. They were no more than benches set up in main squares by men who both changed and lent money. Their benches would be laden with currencies from the different trading countries. The Italian for bench or counter is banco and the English word bank comes from this. Banks have always had a reputation for dependability and from this sense arrives the expression to bank on
Baptism of fire - first painful experience
Initially this meant the grace of the Holy Spirit imparted by baptism: 'he [Jesus] shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire' (Matthew, 3:11) is one of many biblical metaphors comparing the action of God with that of fire in refining and purifying (especially metals) or destroying.
...Later the expression was used, again theologically, of martyrdom by fire as an equivalent to baptism (in securing admission to salvation). Finally, it was applied to a soldier's first experience of being under fire in battle. This last sense gave rise to the modern usage
Bark up the wrong tree - misdirect one's effort
An Americanism first found in print in a book by Davy Crockett, the folk hero and Congressman, in 1833. It comes from the hunting of raccoon, a tree-climbing animal valued for its fur. Being a nocturnal animal it had to be hunted at night, which explains why the hunting dogs responsible for signalling in which tree a raccoon had hidden were prone to error and sometimes barked up (at) the wrong one.
Bats in the belfry - crazy
The comparison is between the head and the upper part of a church: the belfry is the brain; the bats clutter it up or flutter around when disturbed by the bell, like confused thoughts in a disordered mind. The derisory term old bat for a mad old woman comes from the same idea.
Battle-axe - belligerent old woman
The word has been in English since at least the 14th century but acquired this sense only in the late 19th. The explanation seems to be that the word was given a new lease of life during hostilities between American settlers and Indians, whose tomahawks were called 'war-hatchets' or 'battle-axes'. It then came into metaphorical use from The Battle Axe, the name of an American women's rights magazine whose writers and readers were presumed to be belligerent and probably elderly spinsters with nothing better to do.
Battle royal - violent struggle
A term originally used in cock-fighting for the sort of contest in which a number of birds were pitted together and left to fight among themselves until only one survived, or for a knockout competition beginning with 16 birds fighting in pairs. Presumably, these variations on the more normal single combat were thought to provide first-rate or 'royal' entertainment.
Be-all and end-all - essential element; entire purpose; supreme issue
Shakespeare invented the phrase but meant something slightly different. Macbeth appears willing to kill the king as long as the murder 'Might be the be-all and the end-all here' (I,7, line 5), i.e. if it could be complete in itself, without any consequences.
A bean-feast used to be an annual dinner given by an employer to his staff and was so called because beans, or more likely bean-geese (so called from a bean-shaped mark on their beaks), were served. Often shortened to beano, it now means any jollification. Full of beans means full of energy, of which beans are providers
Bear-garden - scene of uproar
Originally a place for the baiting of bears; they were chained to a post and attacked by dogs. The pastime was notorious for rowdiness and bad language among the rabble who enjoyed it
Beard the lion in his own den - confront a dangerous adversary on his own ground
Two distinct ideas are run together here. The first is from the words of the young David explaining why he should be allowed to fight Goliath: when he was a shepherd 'there came a lion ... I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him' (I Samuel, 17: 34-5). The second, which is first found added on in Walter Scott's poem Marmion (1808), is a borrowing from a different story, that of Daniel in the lion's den.
Beat a (hasty) retreat - depart
From the military beat retreat, beat a drum as a signal for retreat. In beat hollow (vanquish completely), 'hollow' is probably a corruption of 'wholly'. In off the beaten track (remotely situated; unusual), 'beaten' is used in its old sense of 'well-trodden', i.e. beaten by feet.
Beat about the bush - show unnecessary caution, hesitation or delay
Beat the bush dates from about 1300 and is found in the 14th century proverb 'One beats the bush, another takes the bird', meaning that one person works and another, the master, profits. The reference is to hunting for game-birds: the beater disturbs it and the hunter ensnares it as it flies from cover. Nowadays game-birds are more likely to be shot in flight; before the invention of gunpowder more caution was needed to get near the bird before hunting could start. This sense of slow approach attached itself to the metaphorical meaning of the current phrase.
Beat hollow
See Beat a retreat.
Beat the rap - avoid blame
An Americanism. A rap here is a criminal charge, a rebuke or an adverse criticism, simply a figurative use of a literal rap- a blow or knock.
Beauty and the beast
Now a jocular catchphrase for two sharply contrasting people or things, this is originally the title of a fairy-tale introduced into European literature in Straparola's Pleasant Nights (1550-3) and in a better-known French version by Villeneuve in 1740-1. To save the life of her father, his youngest daughter Beauty agrees to live with the Beast, an ugly monster; filled with pity and affection she finally agrees to marry him, whereupon he turns into a handsome prince, released from a cruel spell by her virtue.
Beaver away - work assiduously
The beaver is remarkable for its industry (and skill) in constructing its habitation and creating dams to preserve its water supply. This gave rise to the verb beaver away for someone who works very hard and to the faintly derogatory eager beaver for a person who is keen to succeed.
Beck and call, at one's - under someone's complete control
The call part of the phrase is fairly straightforward: if someone in authority calls, one should answer promptly. The beck part is more obscure. Beck is defined as 'a mute signal or significant gesture, especially one indicating assent or notifying a command; e.g., a nod, a motion of the hand or forefinger, etc.'. Although the word beck used outside of beck and call is archaic and rarely heard today, it is only a shortened form of the familiar word beckon meaning 'to make a mute signal or gesture', especially to call a person to you. Beckon, in turn, comes from an old Germanic word meaning 'signal' from which we also derive the modern English word beacon. As a verb, beck first appeared around 1300AD (beckon is a bit older, first showing up around 950). The phrase beck and call is more recent, dating only to about 1875.
Bed of roses
Because of its beauty, fragrance and colour, the rose figures prominently in literature, often indicating a person - especially a woman - of peerless beauty, virtue and excellence. It is also an emblem of England, a heraldic device and an element in Christian symbolism. Common expressions include bed of roses, a position of ease and comfort, and roses all the way (a quotation from Robert Browning's poem The Patriot, 1855), which means pleasing or triumphant progress.
Bee in one's bonnet - an obsession
An alliterative refinement of an earlier expression 'his head is full of bees', i.e. he is scatterbrained, unable to think straight, as if he has bees buzzing around inside his head. The notion of having a bee in one's bonnet implies an inability to concentrate on anything else.
Bee's knees, the - the height of perfection
A more intelligible piece of slang, 'no bigger than a bee's knee', is recorded from the late 18th century onwards. This might, or might not, have been transmogrified into the present expression by the bright young things of the 1920s, when not only language, but music, dancing, dress and social behaviour were frantically valued - in the wake of the First World War - for their breaking of convention. Bee's knees, like the equally improbable cat's pyjamas and its variant the cat's whiskers - all three mean the same - belongs to that period and has survived because of an engaging idiocy reinforced by rhyme. At about the same time, people played with other phrases that linked animals to humans, and we find the kipper's knickers, the snake's hips, the elephant's instep and so on. However, in the last few years modern imagination has taken the idea further, and we now have more ribald phrases such as the dog's bollocks, which is sometimes abbreviated to just the dogs.
Before the flood - a very long time ago
The rains with which God destroyed all living things except for Noah, his family and his livestock are known as the Flood or Deluge. See out of the ark.
Beggars can't be choosers
Once mainly used to indicate resignation about one's situation, nowadays this is often used more aggressively, of other people's situations, implying 'like it or lump it'. This expression was in use by 1546 when it appeared, in a book of proverbs compiled by John Heywood, in the form 'Folk say always, beggars should be no choosers'. Another proverb 'If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride', approaches the situation from a different angle; but is more rarely used.
Beggar description, belief, etc. - to be beyond description, belief, etc.
This use of beggar to mean 'exhaust the resources of' dates from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra: 'For her own person, / It beggared all description' (II, 2, lines 197-8).
Believe that all one's geese are swans - have too optimistic a view of one's possessions, attributes, prospects, etc.
This expression dates from the time when geese were commonplace and much used for food, whereas swans were rarer, regarded as more beautiful, and often used in literature as an image of faultlessness.
Bells and whistles
This expression refers to non-essential but often engaging features added to something to make it seem more attractive without actually enhancing its main function. There is a certain amount of debate as to where it comes from, the use of both these devices on streetcars, steamships and railway locomotives for warning or signalling purposes being variously cited. However, it is more likely that the term comes from the theatre organ. These mighty instruments augmented their basic repertoire by all sorts of sound effects to help the organist accompany silent films, among them car horns, sirens and bird whistles. These effects were called toys, and organs often had toy counters with 20 or more noisemakers on them, including bells and whistles. When talkies arrived, theatre organs continued to be used for quite a time, and these fun features must then have been considered no longer essential to the function of the organ, but frivolous add-ons. It is possible that the expression grew out of that.
Bell the cat - undertake a difficult mission at great personal risk
An ancient fable tells of a colony of mice who met together to discuss how they could thwart a cat that was terrorising them. One young mouse suggested hanging a bell around the cat's neck so that its movements would be known to them. This plan delighted the rest of the group until an older and wiser mouse asked the obvious question, "Who will bell the cat?"
Below the belt - unfair; unscrupulous
The rules for the previously unregulated sport of boxing were drawn up by the Marquess of Queensberry in 1867 and prohibited any blow delivered to the body below the line of the belt (now waistband) because of the special vulnerability of the groin, etc.
Below the salt - in a humble, lowly or despised position
Formerly the salt container marked the division at a dinner table between the rich and important people and the more lowly people, the important people being near the top and so above the salt.
Bend over backwards - try very hard, especially to help
This American expression seems to have originated simply as the opposite of the notion of leaning towards or bending over someone in solicitude or friendship. In other words it means making a special effort even if that entails acting against one's inclination and going to the opposite extreme in an attempt to show no bias.
Best bib and tucker - one's best clothes
Sometimes used of formal dress. Originally used only of women's clothes: a bib was a piece of cloth, like the upper part of an apron, worn between throat and waist; a tucker was a frill of lace or muslin covering the neck and shoulders. The phrase dates from the 17th century and has gradually been adopted, originally jocularly, to apply to men's clothes as well.
Best laid plans of mice and men (go oft astray)
In his poem To a Mouse, subtitled 'On turning her up in her nest with the plough, November 1785', Robert Burns expresses sorrow for destroying the mouse's carefully constructed shelter and muses on the lot of man and animal. It is in this context that these words occur, except that in the original they are in dialect and Burns actually wrote 'schemes' not 'plans'.
Best of British luck
Often shortened to Best of British, this is an ironic quip as if to say, 'You get on with it, but leave me out.' It was frequently heard during the early days of WWII, when the Allies were losing confidence in their ability to win the war and British luck was hard to come by.
...In the 1960s, 'And the best of British' took on a less sarcastic and more positive meaning, especially with the government-supported 'I'm Backing Britain' campaign. The expression also became one of comedian Frankie Howerd's (1917-92) innuendo-laden catchphrases.
Between a rock and a hard place - to have no good alternatives
A reference to Odysseus' dilemma of passing between Scylla and Charybdis (metaphorically a rock and a hard place). Scylla was the monster on the cliffs and Charybdis was the dangerous whirlpool. Neither fate was more attractive, as both were difficult to overcome.
Between the devil and the deep (blue) sea - between two equally difficult alternatives
Here devil is nautical slang for a seam between planks that was difficult to caulk, i.e. make watertight by hammering oakum (fibres of rope) into the gap and then adding tar. The word was particularly used for the long seam of the first plank on the outer hull next to the keel, and for the seam along the edge of the deck where only the thickness of the hull was between this devil and the sea. No doubt awkward and difficult seams were given this name because they were 'the devil' to get at. The whole phrase therefore meant, literally, a physical position between two unpleasant things and, metaphorically, a dilemma. See also The devil to pay.
Between you, me and the gatepost - between ourselves, in confidence
Formerly '... and the bedpost', which made better sense in implying intimacies as of people in bed together. Perhaps as the expression passed round among people who knew nothing of four-poster beds they substituted a sort of post that was more familiar to them. However, 'post' had long been metaphorical for anything deaf, lifeless or ignorant; what matters is not the type of post but the fact that any post can be relied on not to reveal a confidence.
Beware Greeks bearing gifts
Used to counsel caution when someone previously unsympathetic appears to offer a favour. It is a rough version of a line in Virgil's Aeneid (Bk II, line 49) where Laocoon warns the Trojans not to accept from the Greeks the wooden horse that was to prove their undoing.
Beyond the pale - unacceptable, intolerable
A pale used to be an area within certain bounds, subject to a particular jurisdiction. Its name came from a now obsolete sense of pale - a wooden stake used in enclosing an area with a fence. There were English Pales in France in the 15th century (the territory of Calais) and in Ireland, around Dublin, from the Middle Ages until the 16th century. Those beyond the Pale were held to be beyond the limits of civilised jurisdiction. The modern expression, with a small p, retains this colouring.
Big Apple, the - nickname for New York City
The name was first coined in the 1920s by John J Fitzgerald, a reporter for the Morning Telegraph, who used it to refer to the city's race tracks and who claimed to have heard it used by black stable hands in New Orleans in 1921. Black jazz musicians in the 1930s took up the name to refer to the city, especially Harlem, as the jazz capital of the world. The epithet was revived in 1971 as part of a publicity campaign by Charles Gillett, in charge of a push to attract tourists to New York, who was possibly inspired by the name of the Beatles' trading company, the Apple Corporation, founded in 1968. The general allusion is to a city that is the big apple sought as the ultimate location for anyone seeking world fame. There are many classical references to apples, such as the golden apples given by Venus to Melanion. The sentiment behind The Big Apple, however, is more likely to be the idea of an apple as a symbol of the best, as in the
apple of one's eye.
...In the 18th century, the writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717-97) referred to London as 'The Strawberry', impressed by its freshness and cleanliness compared with foreign cities; he named his estate at Twickenham, Middlesex, Strawberry Hill, and founded there the Strawberry Hill Press.
Big Brother (is watching you)
Said jocularly, ironically or more seriously of a person or organisation, such as a government, exercising dictatorial control. The allusion is to George Orwell's prophetic novel 1984 (1949) in which Big Brother is the sinister, despotic and omnipresent figurehead of a ruthlessly repressive and dehumanising Stalinist state that crushes all individuality. 'Big Brother is watching you' is the slogan on huge posters showing his image, displayed everywhere in a manner still characteristic of some totalitarian regimes.
Big cheese - an important person (usually derogatory)
This is an Americanism, though it started life in English via Persian and originally had nothing to do with dairy products. The source is the Persian or Hindi word chiz, meaning a thing. Sir Henry Yule wrote it up in his famous Anglo-Indian dictionary Hobson-Jobson (1886). He said that the word used to be common among Anglo-Indians and quoted such expressions as 'These cheroots are the real chiz' and 'My new Arab is the real chiz'. In early 19th century London the expression 'the real thing' was already widely used and once returnees from India were heard to use 'the real chiz' it is easy to see how the two merged and the unfamiliar foreign word changed into the more recognisable cheese.
...The phrase then migrated to America and became 'the big cheese', as a term to describe the most important person in a group. Like other similar expressions, big cheese was by no means always complimentary and often had derisive undertones.
Bigger they are, the harder they fall, the
This is a 19th century catchphrase from the world of boxing, a useful sentiment for the underdog. It is often attributed to the boxer 'Ruby' Robert Fitzsimmons (1862-1917), but what he actually said, when faced with a match against James J. Jeffries in 1900, was 'You know the old saying "The bigger they are, the further they have to fall"', so he was not claiming to have invented the expression. The saying was particularly appropriate in this context, for Fitzsimmons, who had already lost his world heavyweight championship to Jeffries the previous year and was to lose to him again, was light enough to have boxed and won the world championship at both middleweight and light-heavyweight, and weighed only 170 pounds. Jeffries, nicknamed 'The Boilermaker' and later known as the Great White Hope, was 6 foot 2½ tall and weighed 220 pounds. It was a real David and Goliath match, but this time Goliath won. Fitzsimmons was British-born, but spent much of his fighting life in the USA, and the saying still has strong American associations. As a catchphrase, the expression was particularly popular among troops in the First World War.
Birds of a feather
The proverb birds of a feather flock together, meaning that people of a similar type will be drawn together, has been in use since the 16th century in English, although similar sentiments are found as far back as Homer. The shortened form birds of a feather, has only been really popular since the 19th century. Of a feather here means 'of the same species'. The expression is nearly always used disapprovingly, suggesting that it is bad qualities the people have in common. It is still too soon to tell if the highly successful British television comedy of clashing aspirations called Birds of a Feather will significantly affect the way people use the expression, but it can be found used with reference to the series.
Bite off more than one can chew - try to do more than one can manage or is capable of
An American expression of late 19th century origin. It probably refers to the offering of a bite from a plug of tobacco. A greedy man might naturally bite off as much as he could but then be unable to chew his mouthful comfortably.
Bite the bullet - bravely face up to something unpleasant
Said to refer to the practice of giving soldiers or sailors a bullet to clench between their teeth during amputation or other surgery in the days before anaesthetics. This may have been so, though a piece of wood or cloth would have been equally handy, more suitable for biting and less likely to be swallowed. A better explanation is that soldiers in battle placed bullets between their teeth so that they could reload more quickly; to be ready to 'bite the bullet' was therefore to be ready for battle.
Bite the dust - come to an unsuccessful end
This is probably no more than a jocular or blunt description of the act of falling flat on one's face, though it may be derived from 'his enemies shall lick the dust' (Psalm 72: 9), which refers to an act of humiliation or acknowledgement of defeat. The phrase is first found in Smollett's translation of Gil Blas (1749) but the idea of biting the ground (or the sand, in Pope's translation of the Iliad, 1715-20) is quite common before then
Bite the hand that feeds one - show ingratitude to someone who deserves thanks
First used in this sense by Edmund Burke (1729-97), the writer, orator, statesman and thinker: 'And having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them' (Thoughts and Details on Scarcity). Previously it meant to commit a blunder: 'He is wonderfully unlucky, insomuch that he will bite the hand that feeds him' (John Addison in The Spectator, 1711).
Black hole of Calcutta
A jocular simile used of a place that is small, dark, cramped, uncomfortable or dismal. The original was a prison cell of less than 30 square yards in Fort William, Calcutta, into which the Nawab of Bengal crammed 146 European prisoners overnight after he had penetrated the defences under a flag of truce during his capture of the city in 1756. By the following morning, all but 23 of the prisoners had suffocated. This notorious event during the struggle for India was an important factor in the establishment of British rule, as the British saw it as demonstrating the impossibility of civilised coexistence between local rulers and foreign traders.
Blackball, to - to exclude someone from a social group or club
As its spelling implies, a ballot was originally a small ball, It was used in a secret voting system which involved placing ballots in a box or urn; a black one was used to express an adverse vote, hence the modern meaning. This method of voting goes back to ancient Greece and Rome.
...In the course of time, the word ballot was used as the name of the voting system, and later still of other voting systems that do not use balls. Today the means of voting may be different, but the term is still in use, as is the exclusivity it represents.
Black sheep - person regarded as a disgrace or failure by the standards of their family, group, society, etc
The black sheep may once have been feared because of a superstition that black was the colour of the devil; there was also a proverb to the effect that black sheep bit people. The more likely reason for the disdain, however, is more pragmatic: its fleece could not be dyed and was therefore less valuable than that of its paler siblings
Blaze a trail - pioneer
A blaze is a white patch on the face of a horse or other animal. The word was adopted to signify a prominent white mark made on a tree by chipping off a piece of the bark to indicate a path or trail. Its first recorded use as a verb in this sense is in the Journals (1750) of the American Thomas Walker, who explored land for speculative purposes. It obviously originated in the language of settlers.
Blaze of glory
This is generally used as to go out in a blaze of glory, like a fire giving a final burst of flames before being extinguished. However, this is a fairly recent development, for in the past the expression was used of such things as sunsets. The first recorded use of the phrase, perhaps the source of it, is in the poem The Hind and the Panther (1686) by Dryden, where he writes, 'Thy throne is darkness in the abyss of light, / A blaze of glory that forbids the sight.'
Blind leading the blind
Used of misguided leadership. Originally said by Jesus in reference to the Pharisees, a sect who strictly observed the letter of religious law and claimed superior sanctity: 'They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch' (Matthew, 15: 14).
Blood is thicker than water - the tie of blood relationship is very strong
Found in 12th century German but not in English until Walter Scott's novel Guy Mannering (1815), though there is some evidence that it was a Scottish proverb before that date.
Bloody but unbowed - hurt but still defiant
From Invictus by W. E. Henley (1849-1903): 'Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed.'
Blot one's copybook
In the days when schoolchildren were expected to learn mainly by mechanical practice, repetition and copying from models, a copybook contained specimens of handwriting - often in the form of proverbs and improving maxims - and other material printed with blank spaces which the pupil filled in by careful copying out. Sometimes a copybook without blank spaces was used in conjunction with an exercise book, also called a copybook because it was used for copying out. In either case, to blot (make an ink-blot on) one's copybook was to commit a fault and mar one's record.
...On the other hand, anything that is copybook (such as a procedure, tactics, etc.) is as perfect as the examples provided in a copybook. In modern terms, it is straight from the textbook.
Blow a raspberry - express contempt
Literally, make a noise of breaking wind. Cockney rhyming slang: raspberry=raspberry tart=fart.
Blow hot and cold - alternate between being favourable and unfavourable; vacillate
An allusion to a fable by Aesop in which a satyr meets a traveller blowing on his fingers to warm them. Invited home by the satyr, the traveller blows on his soup to cool it. The satyr turns him out, wishing to have nothing to do with someone who can blow hot and cold from the same mouth.
Blow one's own trumpet - boast
Because of its penetrating sound, the trumpet has been used from ancient times to send signals (especially military ones), express celebration or draw attention to something. The arrival of an important person may even today be proclaimed by a fanfare of trumpets. In contrast, a person who has to blow his own trumpet lacks modesty and invites derision.
Blow the gaff - let out a secret
Gaff was originally 'gab', a colloquial word (from 'gabble') for too much talking or glib prattling of the kind that may be indiscreet at times. If, as is likely, gab is related to 'gob', slang for 'mouth', we get an idea of 'blowing' the mouth (as one blows an instrument) as a term for letting out too much air, i.e. talking too much or too loudly.
...There is no connection with the French gaffe (blunder), which came into English much later.
...From this meaning of gab we get gift of the gab, the ability to talk fluently or persuasively. This has lost the pejorative overtones of the original 'gab'; usually, though not always, it is thought of as quite a useful gift.
...In America and Canada, the expression to stand the gaff means to withstand problems, scorn and other troubles. Gaff is also archaic English slang for someone's home, as in 'Let's go round to his gaff'.
Blows great guns
See Great guns.
Blue-blooded - aristocratic; socially superior
Blue blood, a direct translation of a Spanish term, was claimed by certain noble Castilian families who were of pure Spanish descent with no dark-skinned Moorish ancestry. Their claim appears to have been based on the blueness of their veins, which were not of course bluer than anyone else's: they merely showed through more clearly against fairer skin.
Blue-chip - reliable and likely to be profitable
Mainly a financial term, applied to a stock or investment regarded as safe; originally a gambling expression, from the counters in games such as poker, the blue chips being the most valuable.
Blue Ribbon - the highest distinction, the best of the bunch
The most desired Order of Knighthood in Britain is the blue ribbon of the Garter. It is conferred by the Sovereign. By extension, the blue ribbon connotes excellence and the highest honour. The phrase usually forms part of a larger one, such as the Blue Ribbon of the Turf (the Derby) or the Blue Ribbon of the Law (the office of the Lord Chancellor). In the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic only, it has an alternative form, the Blue Riband of the Atlantic. This became popular in the first half of the 20th century when great liners such as the Queen Mary and the United States vied with each other to be quickest across the Atlantic. There is no difference in meaning or connotation between ribbon and riband.
Blue-rinse brigade, the
Although this phrase has a military ring, it is used to describe women of a certain age with conservative tendencies. It is a slightly derogatory description that refers to the colour of the rinse used to conceal grey hair; conveniently, blue is the British Conservative Party colour. The collective term brigade was obviously applied because of the formidable presence these ladies make at political meetings, party conferences and other rallies of the faithful, but the term can be extended to encompass any group of well-groomed, socially active, usually well-off, elderly women.
Bob's your uncle - everything is perfect
Commonly thought to have originated as a catchphrase after A. J. Balfour was promoted, not for the first time, by his uncle Robert (the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury) to be Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1887. This move was widely interpreted as being the result of nepotism. The expression was initially an ironic or bitter comment, to the effect that everything will be all right for you if Bob is your uncle, though it has now lost this shade of meaning. Sometimes it means no more than 'that's that'.
Bold as brass - totally unabashed; with great effrontery
The simile draws a comparison between confidence of behaviour and the hardness of brass. Similarly brass neck for impudence.
Bolt from the blue
A bolt from the blue (complete surprise) is more fully 'a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky'. A thunderbolt is, in mythology, the destructive weapon wielded by several gods, notably Jove. It gets its name from the primitive superstition that a bolt (i.e. arrow) from the heavens was the destructive agent in a lightning-flash striking an object such as a tree during a thunderstorm. The expression implies that lightning and thunder when the sky is clear and blue would be unexpected. A variation is out of the blue.
...Bolt upright (straight) is from the straightness of an arrow. To have shot one's bolt (to have done everything one can) also derives from archery.
Bone of contention - subject of disagreement; cause of strife
This seems to go back to the 16th century 'cast a bone between', meaning to cause a quarrel between. The image is that of a bone thrown to dogs, causing a squabble between them. The clarifying addition 'of contention' is first recorded in 1711 and has remained attached to 'bone' ever since.
Bone up on - study, learn
Originally American student slang, from the Bohn of Bohn's Classical Library, a series of translations in wide use as a study aid in the 19th century. Bohn's, a publishing firm owned by Henry Bohn (1796-1884), produced English translations of Greek and Latin classics that were widely used by students cramming for their exams. The expression to Bohn up soon became to bone up.
Boot is on the other foot, the - the situation is now reversed
A development from 'the boot is on the wrong leg' (that is a mistake). Literally this referred to an absent-minded oversight, or there may be something in the explanation that a pair of cheap boots used to be made in the same shape, without differentiation between right and left, so that discomfort could sometimes be removed by changing them round. In that case the expression implied a comparison between being in error and being in pain.
Born-again Christian - one who has undergone a spiritual conversion and become a fervent and sometimes evangelising Christian
By extension, born-again is now used of anyone newly converted to some activity or cause, as in born-again Socialist. The phrase was originally applied to fundamentalist Christians in the Southern United States and has been in use since at least the 1960s, although the term originates in the New Testament with the story of Christ and Nicodemus (John 3: 3:): 'Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'
Born on the wrong side of the blanket - illegitimate
The allusion could be to the consequences of hurried moments of illicit sexual pleasure on the top of the blankets, whereas legitimate children are more likely to have been conceived in more leisure and with due propriety underneath them. Alternatively, it might refer to the shame of illegitimate births that forced mothers to have their children in secrecy outside the marriage bed rather than in the comfort of it.
Born with a silver spoon in one's mouth - born into affluence
Unlike ordinary children, that is, who have to wait until their christening before they receive the traditional gift of a silver spoon from their godparents.
Bottom line - basic and most important fact
From accountancy: the bottom line of a set of financial accounts shows the total, usually the single most important figure.
Bottomless pit - inexhaustible supply
Originally biblical for hell (see for example Revelation, 20:1), but now used in a quite different sense.
Bounden duty
Few people today are ever going to use the word bounden - an old past participle of the verb 'to bind' - outside this set phrase. A bounden duty is literally one you are kept to by legal or moral ties. The expression dates from the 16th century, and has probably been kept alive by its use in the Book of Common Prayer, where the Communion Service has both 'It is very meet, right and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee O Lord', and 'We beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service'.
Box and cox - alternate; (loosely) make shift to fit in something extra
J. M. Morton's farce Box and Cox (1847), adapted from a French original, centres on two men of this name who are rented the same room, one by night and the other by day, by an opportunist lodging-house keeper. As Cox and Box (1867), it was also a popular operetta with music by Arthur Sullivan, but it is the earlier title that has passed into more general use.
Brand new - entirely and completely new
Here brand has nothing to do with the mark of workmanship, but means 'fire-brand, piece of burning wood'. Brand new comes from the smith's trade and so was originally used only of objects made of metal, which were literally fire-new, fresh from the furnace.
...Often the expression is used with the addition of spanking, as in brand spanking new. Here spanking does not mean to slap, but is used to give extra emphasis or force, as would extremely or strikingly. Spanking appears in English in about the mid-17th century, but then implied something that was exceptionally good or especially fine, showy or smart. It may have come from a Danish or Norwegian word spanke, to strut. Later on, horses often had the word applied to them, to mean one capable of moving very fast, but particularly in a smart way. Later still, it could mean no more than moving in any kind of conveyance, with no link to horses. The idea behind the modern sense in brand spanking new is not very different from its first use. The whole expression itself is first recorded from the mid-19th century.
...The brand name sense of brand, incidentally, is from a somewhat different sense of brand as a verb, meaning 'to mark with an iron hot from the fire'. The first brands in this sense were probably wooden casks of wine marked in this fashion with the vintner's trademark. The practice of branding cows and horses with a rancher's brand comes from the same source.
Brass neck - cheek, impudence
See Bold as brass.
Brave new world
This is a double quotation: in The Tempest, Shakespeare has the naïve Miranda, brought up on an island with only her father for human company, respond to seeing a group of shipwrecked men, who mostly turn out to be corrupt, with the words 'Oh brave new world, / That has such people in it' (brave here meaning 'fine, handsome'). When Aldous Huxley wrote his novel of a future world in which babies were reared in bottles, sex was encouraged, but love and affection, and especially individuality, were taboo, he borrowed Shakespeare's words, and called it Brave New World (1932), and it is from this that we take the phrase for a nightmare society. The irony of both Shakespeare's and Huxley's use is now often missing.
Bread and circuses
A phrase coined by the Roman poet Juvenal to deplore the declining heroism of Romans after the Roman Republic ceased to exist and the Roman Empire began: "Two things only the people anxiously desire - bread and circuses." The government kept the Roman populace happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles such as chariot races, gladiators, plays and athletic events. The expression has now become a convenient general term for offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.
Break a leg
Superstition against wishing an actor 'Good luck!' has led to the adoption of this phrase in its place. The popular explanation is that it derives from the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth, the actor turned assassin, leapt to the stage of Ford's Theatre after the murder, breaking his leg in the process. The logical connection with good luck is none too clear, but such is folklore.
...There is no evidence, however, to suggest that this is the true derivation, and since the earliest usage of the phrase dates to the 1920s, there is much to suggest that it is not.
...In the theatrical community, it is commonly told that the phrase refers to bending the knee, an old style of bowing. To break a leg was to bow a lot, meaning a successful performance. However, there is no evidence to support this explanation either and the fact that it only dates to the 1920s rules against it.
...It is also possible that the phrase derives from a German expression for good luck, Hals und Beinbruch ('May you break your neck and your leg'), with which the Kaiser's pilots used to wish each other luck during the First World War. However, this too seems unlikely; it is much more likely that the phrase arose from a simple superstition against wishing someone good luck.
Break one's duck
See Score a duck.
Break the bank - to leave (oneself or someone) without any money
In gambling terms, to win all the money that a casino is prepared to pay out in one night.
Break the ice- get through the initial coldness or restraint at a meeting
Not from taking the plunge but from taking a necessary step to draw water from a frozen source, such as a well. The expression is from early rural life, though there is an alternative explanation of break the ice in seamanship: it was sometimes necessary to break the ice on rivers, lakes, etc. to make a passage for boats. This practice has given rise to cut no ice (make no impression on a person).
Breathe/Preach fire and brimstone
Brimstone is the obsolete name for sulphur, a noxious substance. In Genesis God rains down 'brimstone and fire' to punish (19: 24). The more familiar pairing of fire and brimstone occurs as a means of torture in Revelation, 14: 10. The idea of breathing it probably originates in the same book, where 'fire and smoke and brimstone' issue threateningly from the mouths of warriors' horses (9: 17).
...A person who breathes fire and brimstone is therefore expressing an angry determination to do something furious, but a person who preaches it does so to threaten damnation in hell for his or her hearers' sins: 'the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone' is hell in Revelation, 21: 8.
Bridge too far
This cliché, for biting off more than you can chew, developed after the publication of Cornelius Ryan's 1974 book A Bridge Too Far, made into a highly successful film in 1977. The book was an account of the Allied operation of 1944, which parachuted troops into Holland to capture eleven bridges needed to secure the approach to Germany. Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Browning is supposed to have protested to Field-Marshall Montgomery at the time that eleven might be 'a bridge too far', but this is probably spurious. The expression rapidly degenerated into a formula phrase, much used in headlines.
Bring home the bacon - have a success
This may refer to winning a pig as a prize at a bowling competition or at a fair, where catching a greased pig was a traditional sport; the winner kept it. There may also be a connection with the Dunmow Flitch, a gammon of bacon which could be claimed at Dunmow, Essex, by anyone swearing to have lived for a year and a day without a household quarrel or a desire to be unmarried; a version of this well-known tradition, established in 1111, still continues. However, the expression came into use only in the 12th century and therefore is more likely to be a simple development or new version of save one's bacon.
Bring to heel - bring (usually a person) under control
Originally a hunting term from the training of hounds to come to a position close behind the hunter where they were under control.
Broad in the beam - having wide hips
See On one's beam ends.
Broken reed - person who cannot be counted on for support
Threatened by the army of Assyria in the 7th century BC, King Hezekiak of Jerusalem hoped for help from Egypt. The Assyrians sent him a discouraging message: 'thou trustest in the staff [i.e. walking-stick giving support] of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it: so is Pharaoh King of Egypt to all that trust him' (Isaiah, 36:6). Reeds, a variety of cane, grew in profusion in the Jordan valley and were broken off to be used as walking-staffs because of their straight stems, but they were clearly unsuitable for putting much weight on.
Brownie points
This term derives from the girl scouts. The organisation had a system of points that the girls would accumulate toward advancement. The phrase entered general language from WWII military slang. The colour of uniforms, the army's tendency to have soldiers do things that seemed silly and child-like, and evocation of brown-nose all contributed to the popularity of the phrase.
Buck stops here, the - the ultimate responsibility lies here
Buck is slang for the American and Canadian dollars, and possibly derives from deer hunting, the bucks (males) being more valuable than the does (females). As well as being a male deer, hare or rat (among other animals), a high-spirited young man, a young dandy or, in a more derogatory sense, a male Native American or African-American, a buck is also an article placed as a reminder before a player whose turn it is to deal at poker, and it is very likely that the slogan actually originated at the poker table (see also
pass the buck), and has nothing to do with dollars. The phrase was made famous by US President Harry S Truman (1884-1972; President 1945-53), who had it hand-written on a sign on his desk at the White House to remind himself and those around him that he alone had the ultimate responsibility for every decision of his administration. The phrase is now generally applied to the boss of any organisation.
Buck the system - resist or refuse to comply with prescribed or normal arrangements
From the action of a bucking horse trying to unseat its rider or refusing to act tamely.
Bucket shop - a shop where cheap tickets, usually airline ones, are sold
The original bucket shops were unsavoury American bars where patrons could buy beer in buckets. In 1882, the Chicago Board of Trade prohibited grain transactions of less than 5000 bushels. Illegitimate trading houses continued to deal in smaller lots; larger houses, if they illegally wished to sell small amounts of grain, sent down to the illegal traders for a bucketful. Before gaining its current meaning, the term then came to describe an illegal brokerage house that often cheated its customers.
Buggins' turn - appointment of person by rotation, or promotion as a result of mere length of service, rather than on merit
The earliest recorded use of this expression is by Admiral Fisher, later First Sea Lord, in 1901. It is not known whether he invented it or was merely the first to write down and make public, in disparaging terms, an existing piece of private Civil Service jocularity. Certainly, the Buggins principle was deeply embedded, and perhaps still is, in the higher ranks of the Civil Service and the armed forces.
...The surname Buggins was probably chosen because it was thought to be appropriately nondescript.
Bulldog breed - the English represented as a nation of people with obstinate courage
The bulldog got its name either from the shape of its head or from its common use in bull-baiting because of its strength and tenacity; its flat muzzle also enable it to breathe without letting go of the bull. It achieved symbolic national status by being represented as the companion of John Bull. The identification of the British as 'the bulldog breed' first occurs in 1857 in Charles Kingsley's historical novel Two Years Ago.
Bum's rush - peremptory expulsion or dismissal
In the USA a bum is a vagrant; the rush is his rapid movement as he is ejected from a place where he is unwanted. Bum in this sense appears to be an abbreviation of the German Bummler (loafer), exemplifying the absorption of immigrant languages into American colloquialism.
Bun-fight - a grand formal party on an important occasion
A British slang expression, originating in the 19th century. The allusion is to the Victorian children's nursery at teatime, the children having tea, inevitably squabbling over the buns, teacakes, muffins and crumpets. (Two similar expressions relating to the latter two treats are known from the middle of the 19th century: crumpet-scramble and muffin-worry; these have not survived.)
...Interestingly, some of the early uses of bun-fight (these days, also often bunfight) borrowed the idea of afternoon tea in the nursery but left out the fighting: it could refer to the most decorous of engagements, such as those one was invited to by elderly aunts of the Wodehousian persuasion, at which squabbling over food was inconceivable. Then, as now, a bun-fight could more generally be any occasion at which food was served, it often being a sarcastic term describing rather formal ones for which guests had to dress up.
...Another sense of bun-fight, also still current, borrowed the fight sense but left out the food. Often this refers to a heated altercation, but one that the describing observer feels is of no importance, rather like the nursery squabble that started the expression off.
Burn one's boats/bridges - stake everything on success
Or, more accurately, destroy one's own means of retreat should a venture fail - an occasional practice of some Roman generals to stiffen the resolve of their troops against the possibility of any such failure. Curiously, both expressions are recorded in English no earlier than the last 20 years of the 19th century.
Burn the candle at both ends - exhaust oneself
In the days when candles were a customary form of lighting, burning them at both ends was synonymous with wastefulness. The modern meaning is milder; in some contexts, it implies anxiety for someone's state of health rather than a criticism of his or her extravagance.
Burn the midnight oil - sit up or work late, especially to study
Midnight oil appears to have been coined by Francis Quarles (1592-1644) in his successful and popular Emblems (1635): 'We spend our midday sweat, our midnight oil, / We tire the night in thought, the day in toil'.
...Other verbs besides 'spend' were subsequently used in adaptations of the quotation, but 'burn' has been invariable since the latter part of the 19th century.
...The expression may owe something to an earlier one of the 16th century: something was said to 'smell of the oil' if it bore the marks of laborious study, i.e. of working long into the night by the light of an oil-lamp.
Bury the hatchet - end a quarrel
An American Indian custom was to bury a tomahawk or other weapon on the conclusion of a peace. The expression is found in writing as early as the 18th century and came into general use by being popularised is such works as Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha (1858).
Busman's holiday - leisure time spent doing what one normally does for a living
Said to originate in the days of horse-drawn buses when certain drivers became so attached to their horses that on their days off they spent their time travelling as passengers on their own buses in order to keep them company.
Buy the farm - die
An Americanism from WWII. When a US soldier was killed in combat, his family was given a 'death benefit' that amounted to enough money to buy a parcel of farmland in the mid west.
By a long chalk
See Chalk up.
By a long shot
See Long shot.
By and by - presently, in due course
This little phrase has been in use for many centuries. Originally, it meant 'in order, neatly spaced'. Chaucer writes of 'Two yonge knightes, ligging by and by', meaning 'side by side'. Sometimes it referred to a succession of separate happenings as in this example from Robert of Brunne: 'Whan William ... had taken homage of barons bi and bi', meaning 'one by one'. From here the phrase took on its modern meaning of 'after a while, eventually'.
By and large - generally speaking
Originally nautical jargon from the days of sailing ships. To steer a course 'by and large' was to keep slightly off the line of the wind when steering into it so that there was less need for constant adjustment to slight changes in its direction and less chance of being taken aback. In general terms the expression implied freedom from special alertness and exactitude, and this is its sense in modern use.
By hook or by crook - by any means possible; by fair means or foul
The modern meaning is different from the original one, which was that only two means were allowed - the hook or billhook, a chopper with a hooked end, used for pruning, and the shepherd's crook, a long staff with a bigger hook at the end for catching the back leg of a sheep. The reference is to medieval laws or rights that restricted the gathering of firewood to prevent depredations: one was allowed to cut off, with the hook, only those branches that could be pulled down with the crook.
By jingo
Like hocus-pocus and abracadabra, jingo was originally a word from conjurers' gibberish when calling for something to appear. It passed into more general use in several emphatic expressions underlining the firmness of a speaker's declaration; by jingo is still sometimes heard as a mild asseveration in this way. It was probably slightly stronger when it was used in a popular British music-hall song during the Baltic crisis of 1877-8: 'We don't want to fight but, by jingo, if we do/We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too .../The Russians shall not have Constantinople'. From this, those who supported the sending of the British fleet into Turkish waters to halt the Russian advance in 1878 were nicknamed jingoes. Jingoism was coined at the same time to denote belligerent patriotism or warmongering, as it still does.
By Jove - exclamation of surprise or emphasis
Jove is the older Roman name for the god Jupiter, deriving from an alteration of Jovis pater, father Jove. Jupiter was the god of the sky, the sovereign deity who had powers over both gods and men. From medieval times, Jove has been used in English as a poetical form of Jupiter. It has also been linked with Jehovah, a form of the Hebrew name of God used in some translations of the Bible. By Jove, used as a mild oath, dates back to the 16th century. It was originally a way of calling on a higher power without using the blasphemous by God.
By the seat of one's pants - do something without planning, work things out as one goes along
Before aircraft had sophisticated instruments and flight control systems (and even sometimes today), they were often piloted by feel. Skilled pilots can feel the reactions of the aircraft in response to their actions at the controls. Being the largest point of contact between pilot and aircraft, most of the feel or feedback comes through the seat of the pants.
By the skin of one's teeth - by the narrowest of margins
This evocative phrase is biblical but it is also a misquotation. Job 19:20 reads: 'My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.' Job meant that all he had escaped with was the skin of his teeth. Everything else had been taken away from him: his family, his possessions, his friends and his health. The misquotation by the skin of one's teeth leads us into a different interpretation of the phrase from the original: that one has just about escaped, that it was a close run thing. Nevertheless, the misquotation is here to stay.
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