Expressions & Sayings

~ F ~

Face the music - face the consequences of one's actions, especially punishment
In the mid-19th century this meant to meet a test without flinching; the modern sense emerged over half a century later. The origin is almost certainly military, either from forcing a cavalry horse to face the regimental band to accustom it to the noise, or from formally expelling a disgraced soldier to the beat of drums.
Fag-end - last and worst part
A fag or fag-end was the last part of a piece of cloth, made of coarser material and hanging loose (fag in this sense seems to be a corruption of 'flag', meaning 'hang down'), and has long been used metaphorically of the last and poorest part of anything. For example, the stub of a cigar used to be called the fag-end; cheap cigarettes were called fags before the word spread to all cigarettes.
...By the same derivation, a fag-end was also the untwisted end of a rope with the strands hanging loose. It is perhaps from this sense of 'frayed' that we get fagged-out (exhausted), though the more likely explanation goes back to fag=flag=droop.
Fair and square - legal and honest
The fair part of this is self-evident; and square is still used in expressions such as square dealing to mean honest and straightforward. It comes from the idea that something is truly square, each angle right, each side lined up with a carpenter's square, is the opposite of crooked or twisted. Square is first recorded in this sense at the end of the 16th century, and only a few years later, in 1604, we find the first use of the rhyming doublet fair and square.
Fair game - something or someone who may be attacked or ridiculed with good reason
This expression was first used in 1825 against a background of abundant restrictive legislation that gave the ruling classes of Britain exclusive rights to the countryside and its creatures. It referred to those few animals and birds, mostly vermin, which could be lawfully hunted by commoners.
Fair to middling - above average
This phrase is from jargon for grades of commercial cotton. In the 19th century, American cotton was graded by category ranging from fine to inferior. To say that cotton (or anything else) was fair to middling meant that it was good, but not the very best. The phrase dates to at least 1837.
Fall foul of - come into conflict with
From nautical jargon, in which the adjective foul has various meanings indicative of something wrong or difficult and the whole expression means 'collide with'.
Fall from grace - loose favour
In the Bible story of the creation of the world (Genesis, 1-3) Adam was the first man, created by God from the dust of the earth, and therefore the progenitor of the human race. He and Eve, who was formed from his rib, lived in innocence in the Garden of Eden until Eve succumbed to temptation by the serpent and ate the fruit (commonly said to be an apple, though not identified as such in the Bible) of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, contrary to the command God had given Adam. She gave Adam some to eat. In punishment for their disobedience, which gave them knowledge of their sexuality, God banished them from the Garden and condemned Adam to work.
...These events have given rise to such expressions as the Fall or fall of man (the lapse of Adam and Eve and thus of humanity into a sinful state) or fall from grace (originally, from God's favour; now any loss of favour) into original sin, said to be the innate depravity of man, inherited from Adam. The old Adam is man's fallen nature, so called from St Paul's contrast between the 'first Adam', destined to die, and the 'last Adam', man redeemed by Christ (I Corinthians, 15: 45).
...The Adam's apple, the thyroid cartilage which appears as a lump at the front of the throat takes its name from the supposition that a piece of the forbidden fruit stuck in Adam's throat. Adam's ale is a fanciful name for water; presumably, the only strong drink available in the Garden of Eden. The phrase is thought to have been introduced by the Puritans.
Fall guy - loser or victim, often one who is duped
The term comes from American wrestling matches in which an outcome was arranged in advance, the fall guy being the wrestler who agreed or was instructed to lose by allowing himself to be thrown down in a fall.
Fall on deaf ears - go unheard
The Bible is full of images of deafness representing a refusal to hear. One of the most delightful, from Psalm 58, describes the wicked, who, compared with the righteous, 'are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely'. This became a standard image of the benighted for medieval moralists, and so entered the English language. The expression deaf ears has been in use since the 15th century, and fall on deaf ears a cliché since the 19th. More common still at that date was the more active turn a deaf ear, made famous in the 18th century by Swift's lines, They never would hear, / But turn the deaf ear, / As a matter they had no concern in' (Dingley and Brent, 1724).
Fall on stony ground - be unreceptive to a person's ideas, etc.
In Christ's parable of the sower, some seed 'fell on stony ground ... and because it had no root, it withered away' (Mark, 4: 5-6); the seed here is God's word and the parable is about the different ways people respond to it.
Far cry from, a - a long way from, a great distance off
The expression within cry of, meaning near enough for a shout to be heard, is found in English from the mid-17th century, but a far cry, meaning 'a long way', is not found until 1819, when Sir Walter Scott, that great reviver of rustic phrases and inventor of new ones, wrote in his Legend of Montrose, 'One of the Campbells replied, "It is a far cry to Lochow", a proverbial expression of the tribe, meaning that their ancient hereditary domains lay beyond the reach of an invading army'. There is further evidence to link early uses of the expression in its literal sense to Scotland, but by the later 19th century its figurative use had become a cliché in General English.
Fat is in the fire, the - something has been done with damaging consequences
When cooking took place over open fires, the fat from spit-roasted meat was collected for basting or subsequent use. The loss of fat into the fire was wasteful and too much fat could cause a conflagration, as could an overheated pan containing fat. For whichever reason, too much fat in the fire was a bad thing. In its earliest use in the 14th century, the expression had to do with failure; only later did it come to imply, as it now does, a crisis or an explosion (of anger, recrimination, etc.).
Feather in one's cap - achievement one can take pride in
A reference to the plumes worn in the helmets of knights as a sign of their distinction. The frequent attribution of the expression to American Indian custom is suspect: the Prince of Wales' three white ostrich feathers, for instance, have been known since the Battle of Crécy (1346), when the Black Prince is said to have won the right to display them after the death there of the king of Bohemia (whose crest they previously were). The expression has been metaphorical in English since the 16th century, which makes an American origin unlikely.
Feather one's nest - enrich oneself
A figurative application to people of something that birds do literally, though birds line their nests with feathers for a different purpose: to ensure safety for their eggs and warmth for their young. The expression is now normally used of people in a disapproving way, implying self-enrichment while in someone else's employment or trust.
Feeding frenzy
In its original form recorded in the early 1960s, this refers to the voracious feeding habits of sharks. From the late 1970s onward, it came into use in its more general sense, which means furious commercial competition.
Feet of clay - fundamental weakness (of a person)
Also idol with feet of clay: a person (occasionally thing) much admired but fatally flawed.
The reference is to a biblical event during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, a great king of Babylon (604-561 BC) during the Jewish captivity there. He had a dream of a great image: 'This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay' (Daniel, 2: 32-3). Called in to explain this dream-image,
Daniel interpreted it as a vision of the declining kingdom: 'And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken' (verse 42).
Ferret (out) - search persistently (and find)
A ferret is a variety of polecat able to enter confined spaces. It was formerly much used for destroying rats and driving rabbits from their burrows so that they could be snared. This practice is not much found these days, but the verb continues in use with its figurative sense.
Few and far between
A hackneyed expression. The original, lines 376-7 of Thomas Campbell's Pleasures of Hope, part 2 (1799), deserves better: 'What though my wingèd hours of bliss have been/Like angel-visits, few and far between'. In view of Robert Blair's 'Its visits, like those of angels, short and far between' (The Grave, 1743) and J. Norris's 'Like Angels' visits, short and bright' (Miscellanies, 1687) it could be that Campbell merely gave final form to an existing idiom.
Fiddle while Rome burns - occupy oneself with something unimportant while a crisis remains unattended to
The great fire of Rome (64 AD) gave the Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) and his city-planners an unparalleled opportunity to rebuild. Included in the plans were a fabulous villa and pleasure park for Nero, the Golden House (64-68 AD), which gave rise to rumours that Nero had started the fire himself in order to clear the site and had moreover celebrated it with music. It is true that he had artistic pretensions and was certainly capable both of initiating the catastrophe and of being insensitive to the suffering it caused, but if the story is true - some historians have argued that he was not in Rome at the time - he would have played a lyre (forerunner of the modern violin and used as an accompaniment to song), not a fiddle.
Field-day - period of excitement, success and freedom from restraint
This is now not quite what the original was - a day on which troops, after much training and practice, were drawn up for review and exercise in field (i.e. battlefield) tactics and manoeuvres, watched by high-ranking officers and other visitors, in what was intended to be a brilliant and noisy display with plenty of dashing movement.
Fifth column - traitors; people within a country, organisation, etc. who secretly work against it
Popularised by Ernest Hemingway's play The Fifth Column (1938), the expression was first used two years previously in a radio broadcast by the fascist General Mola during the Spanish Civil War. While besieging Madrid with an army of four columns of troops he claimed that he also had a 'fifth column' in the shape of the citizens of the city who were ready to rise up in his support.
Fight like Kilkenny cats - fight to the end, with no holds barred
The connection between fighting and Kilkenny cats is obscure, From the Norman period until 1843, the Irish town of Kilkenny was divided into Englishtown and Irishtown, with much strife between the two. One theory harks back to a legendary battle between a thousand cats from Kilkenny and a thousand cats from other parts of Ireland. In the night-long battle all the Kilkenny cats survived victorious, while all the others perished. Another more popular theory dates from about 1800, when Kilkenny was occupied by a group of Hessian mercenaries in British government service, some of whom, bored and with nothing better to do, tied two cats to a clothes line by their tails and sat back to enjoy the feline fight. The soldiers had no time to release the cats when an officer approached to investigate the noise, so they cut the animals free by severing their tails. The officer was told that the cats had fought so fiercely that only their tails remained.
Fill/Fit the bill - meet the requirements
Bill here means poster, as it often does. The whole expression originated in America, where a famous performer whose name appeared in large letters on a theatre-bill to the exclusion of all others literally 'filled' the bill. The meaning (originally, 'have importance') shifted over the years, as frequently happens, as the phrase moved from theatrical circles that understood its origins to a wider public which did not.
Filthy lucre - money
Now a jocular term, it is from the Bible (Titus, 1: 11) where it is a translation of the Greek for 'dishonourable gain'. Lucre is obsolete, though lucrative (providing gain) is still common.
Fingers crossed - hoping for luck or a happy outcome
Crossing one's fingers is a quick and easy way of making the sign of the cross to shield oneself from diabolic powers. It is also easy to keep them crossed, thus ensuring lasting protection from the devil's tricks.
Firing on all cylinders - working or operating at full strength
Literally used of an internal combustion engine.
First-rate - of the best quality
Warships used to be classified according to six divisions called 'rates', in the sense of kinds or sorts, depending on the number of guns they carried. A ship 'of the first rate' belonged to the highest of these divisions and was therefore among the most powerful. This phrase became shorter as it passed from naval into general use.
Fit as a fiddle - in very good health
Fit has had this sense of 'in good condition' only since the 19th century. Before that, it meant only 'convenient, becoming, right and proper' (i.e. fitting), which explains why the earliest recorded form of this expression (1595) is 'as right as a fiddle'. One can only guess why a fiddle was thought to be particularly fit in this sense: perhaps because it was a piece of skilled craftsmanship and therefore to be admired, or because its playing required dexterity. People used to say that a person who was liked had a face 'made of a fiddle': they meant that it was always wreathed in smiles, as a fiddle has a much-curled shape. The origins of the modern expression probably lie somewhere among these associations, assisted - as is often the case with popular expressions - by alliteration.
Flavour of the month - something temporarily in fashion or popularity
American ice cream parlours, certainly by the 1950s, encouraged their customers to eat more (by lowering the price in a promotion) and try new flavours (by featuring a less known one) with a flavour of the month. This has been a widespread marketing ploy in recent decades in many fields.
Flea in one's ear, (get) a - (receive a verbal rebuke
From the discomfort experienced by animals, especially dogs and cats scratching themselves to relieve the irritation of fleas biting or moving inside their ears. There is an obvious metaphorical link between the unpleasantness of such a nuisance and that of a word or rebuke in a person's ear.
...A flea-bite (trifling matter), on the other hand, is of little consequence compared with the bites of other creatures.
Flea market
The origin of this term, which first appeared in English in the 1920's, most probably lies in Paris, where Le Marche aux Puces (literally, 'market of the fleas') was a popular shopping venue. Le Marche aux Puces took its name from the semi-humorous (and probably at least partly accurate) popular perception that the market's ragtag goods were more than likely to be infested with fleas.
Flog a dead horse - act to no good effect, often on something that is already settled, worn-out, etc.
Because a dead horse was useless and could no longer be worked for profit, seamen used to describe as 'dead-horse time' the period of usually a month for which they were paid in advance when signing on. Perhaps having spent all the money before setting sail, they felt they were then working for nothing. Be that as it may, they certainly celebrated the end of the dead-horse month and the beginning of a new pay period by parading an effigy of a horse round the ship or hauling one up a mast.
...Flogging a dead horse was therefore working (expending energy, as one does in flogging) for nothing, so to speak. Or perhaps officers, who had the power to punish seamen by flogging, used the term to describe their exasperation: getting good or extra work out of a crew that was still working off its dead-horse time was flogging the dead horse.
Flotsam and jetsam - odds and ends
This expression comes from ancient maritime law, where flotsam, from the French floter, to float, is salvage found floating on the waves, and jetsam, a shortening of jettison, that which has been deliberately thrown overboard. By the 19th century this had come to be a cliché for odds and ends, with terms such as human flotsam, a popular term to describe the outcasts of society in modern times.
Flutter the dovecotes - cause an outburst of anxiety or excitement
This may have been an everyday expression when pigeons were much eaten as food, dovecotes were common and a disturbance would cause their occupants to flutter away, or it may have been invented by Shakespeare: 'like an eagle in a dove-cote I/Fluttered your Volscians' (Coriolanus, V, 6, lines 115-6).
Fly a kite - express an opinion or proposal to test opinion and gauge opposition or support
Kite used to be stock exchange and commercial slang for an accommodation bill, a bill of exchange not representing an actual commercial transaction but drawn up for the purpose of raising money on credit with no capital as security. A person who raised funds in this way was therefore said to be flying a kite. The modern meaning, however, does not appear to relate to this but to be a separate metaphor from the idea of 'seeing how the wind blows' (which is what one does in flying a real kite), i.e. finding out in what direction things are tending.
Fly-by-night - unreliable or untrustworthy person
The term goes back to the idea of witches flying on their broomsticks by night and has had a number of meanings over the centuries (e.g. a wheeled sedan chair in Regency times). The current meaning has to do with fleeing overnight, the sort of thing a swindler might do. Indeed the term is sometimes used for a defaulting debtor.
Fly in the face of - go against accepted wisdom, knowledge or common practice
An expression in use from the 19th century and probably even earlier, from falconry, where the allusion is to a falcon or other bird of prey flying at the face of its master instead of settling on the falconer's gauntlet.
Fly in the ointment - small disadvantage in otherwise happy circumstances
An Old Testament allusion from about the 4th century BC: 'Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour' (Ecclesiastes, 10: 1).
Fly off the handle - lose one's temper
Either from the loss of control, and possible danger, when the head of an axe works loose and flies off the handle as the axe is swung, or from the user's exasperation when this happens - as was likely when axe-handles were home-made in American pioneering days. It is one of several expressions reflecting that country's comparatively recent history of forest clearance as a prerequisite of settlement and farming.
Flying saucer - unidentified flying object
The modern phenomenon of UFO sightings dates to 1947. Curiously, before this date no one ever reported seeing such an object. There were science fiction tales of alien beings, but the phenomenon of 'sighting' them did not exist.
...All that changed on 24 June 1947. On that day, American pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing several high-speed unidentified flying objects near Mount Rainier in Washington state. On 8 July, the world was introduced to the term flying saucer by journalists who were describing Arnold's sighting and the spate of copycat sightings that followed in its wake.
...Interestingly, Arnold never claimed to have seen saucer-shaped objects. The objects he described were more like a boomerang or flying wing. The term arose because Arnold described the motion of the objects to reporters as erratic, 'like a saucer if you skip it across the water.' Oregon journalist Bill Bequette, who first interviewed Arnold, misinterpreted this to mean the objects were saucer-shaped. Bequette filed his story with the Associated Press and soon newspapers across America were telling the tale of the 'flying disks.' Two weeks later, the London Times was the first to actually use the term flying saucer.
...Arnold tried to correct the error, but it was too late. The idea of saucer-shaped alien craft had wormed its way into the public consciousness and subsequent 'sightings' dutifully conformed to the saucer-shaped prototype of a proper alien craft.
Fool's gold - false prospect of wealth; swindle
The name originally given to iron pyrite because of its yellow colour. It may have been coined after Frobisher's three expeditions in search of the North-West Passage in the 1570s, when cargoes of ore containing the substance were brought back in the mistaken belief that they contained gold, but it is not recorded in writing until much later and may therefore have been a subsequent coinage.
Fool's paradise - state of illusory happiness
Medieval Christian (Roman Catholic) theologians considered the problem of the souls of the mentally deficient, who could not be held responsible for their actions during their lives. It was decided that after death they could not be punished in purgatory, yet they were not fitted for heaven, so they were destined for a special limbo or Paradise of Fools. The term has been metaphorical since the 15th century and has long since lost whatever theological sense it had.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
From Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism (1711), line 625.
Footloose and fancy free - free from care and responsibility
Footloose describes someone who, without responsibilities to restrain him, can wander wherever he wishes. If that person is also fancy free, he has a free heart, having no sweetheart to tie him down. The word fancy originally meant 'fantasy' or 'imagination' before coming to mean 'whim' and finally 'love'. The phrase is appealing because of the alliteration and the balance of the two words.
Foot the bill - pay the bill
Footing was the act of adding up figures in a list and placing a total at the foot of the column. It was polite to ask a customer to foot the bill (check the arithmetic) as a euphemism for 'pay the bill'. In time, the euphemistic sense dropped away.
For the high jump - required to face punishment or reprimand
A development, probably via military slang, from an earlier meaning, which simply had to do with facing a difficulty. The origin is in steeplechasing, in which a high jump is a major obstacle.
Forbidden fruit - anything tempting but prohibited
Explained under Fall from grace.
Foregone conclusion - something bound to happen; a result that might have been foreseen
A Shakespearean coinage (Othello, III, 3, line 434), except that Shakespeare was referring to something that had already actually happened ('gone' or occurred before).
Fork out/up - pay, contribute (money)
In slang, from the late 17th century, the 'forks' were the forefinger and middle finger and the verb 'to fork' was to pickpocket, especially by inserting the two 'forks' into a victim's pocket. In standard English, a fork is, among other things, a bifurcation, v-shape or division into two branches, and it is easy to see why this came to be applied to the first two fingers of the hand. To fork out (now colloquial rather than slang) developed naturally from the basic idea of fingering money and bringing it out of a pocket.
Forlorn hope - faint hope
On the face of it this is a curious expression because 'forlorn' does not normally mean 'faint'; it means 'miserable, lonely, forsaken or sad'. The explanation is that a forlorn hope was originally a body of troops chosen to spearhead an attack. The rather odd name was an adaptation of the Dutch 'verloren hoop' (literally, 'lost troop'), a term that implied that the soldiers selected for this troop had faint hope of success. The English version meant the same, which is why a term that originally had nothing to do with forlornness or hope now means what it does.
Forty winks - a short nap
Forty used to be not only a precise number but also an indefinite term for a large number. There are frequent biblical references to 'forty days' that mean no more than 'for a long time', and because of this frequency the number 40 came to have an almost sacrosanct quality. It is probably this sense, jocularly applied, that lies behind 'forty winks', a wink itself being a short spell of sleep.
Four-flusher - a swindler, a pretender, a bluffer
This American expression has been in use since about 1904 and originated in the game of stud poker. The verb four-flush, meaning 'to bluff', preceded the noun and first appeared around 1887. A flush in poker is a very good, and potentially winning, hand consisting of five cards all of one suit. To four-flush in poker is to pretend to have a five-card flush when you really only have four cards of one suit, the object being to intimidate one's opponents into giving up and allowing you to win with an inferior hand. Four-flushing is considered a cheap and tacky tactic, so it's no wonder that the term four-flusher spread beyond the poker table and became a vivid epithet for a trickster who only pretends to have what it takes.
Fourth Estate, the - journalists
In rather dated terminology the three estates of the realm are the three bodies of people who constitute Parliament: the Lords Spiritual (archbishops and bishops) and Lords Temporal (hereditary and life peers) who form the House of Lords, and the Third Estate - elected representatives - who form the House of Commons. The Fourth Estate, now often spelt without capital letters, is the name for the press said to have been coined by Edmund Burke (1729-97), the philosopher and parliamentarian, when remarking that the Press Gallery in the House of Commons was more important than the other three estates.
Fred Karno's Army - (comically) shambolic organisation
Fred Karno was the stage name of Fred Westcott, a British acrobat turned impresario who during the late 19th and early 20th centuries formed famous troupes of comedians to perform on the music-hall circuits that stretched across Britain. His companies specialised in sketches of a broad, slapstick, often mimetic kind. Karno was therefore well known, his name synonymous with uproarious disorganisation. At the time of World War I. Fred Karno's Army was the good-natured, slightly cynical nickname adopted - and celebrated in marching song - by the huge volunteer army which rushed to join up during the early months of the war in response to public appeal, were trained in often makeshift circumstances, and retained a cheerful irreverence. Their name is still used, though no longer confined to military contexts.
French leave - leave or absence without permission
Originally a term describing a custom, prevalent in France in the 18th century but regarded in England as impolite, of leaving a social function without saying farewell to one's host or hostess. It is now used of any unauthorised absence or departure, e.g. from one's place of work.
Fresh as a daisy - not tired
This comes from the fanciful assumption that the daisy is never tired because it 'sleeps' regularly, closing at sunset and opening in the morning. The name of the daisy in fact comes from the Old English for 'day's eye', from its opening with the sun as the human eye opens in the morning. Perhaps its petals, which close over its bright centre at the end of the day, were also thought to resemble human eyelashes.
Fresh fields - new opportunities
John Milton actually wrote 'Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new' as the final line of Lycidas, but the misquotation is firmly established. See Pastures new.
Freudian slip
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Professor of Neurology at Vienna University from 1902-28 and one of the first great exponents of psychology, devised psychoanalysis as a system for treating neurosis. Much of his teaching was devoted to the relationship between the conscious mind and the unconscious, which he defined as a reservoir of sometimes primitive or anti-social instincts, thoughts, desires and emotions, some of which may be consciously or unconsciously suppressed in a way that may lead to neurotic symptoms.
...A Freudian slip is an inadvertent remark, often a mispronunciation of a single word, which is thought (usually jocularly) to reveal what one really thinks, feels or is, as distinct from how one would like to appear. It gives a glimpse into the unconscious mind, revealing more than one intended.
...The expression is a popular rather than a scientific one, though it accurately reflects Freud's view of the unconscious as the true source of mental energy.
Friendly fire - under fire from one's own forces
This expression is familiar primarily to the military since at least the Vietnam War, and more widely since the Gulf War of 1991. However, being under fire from one's own side is as old as warfare itself. It certainly happened to Colonel Robert Munroe, a Scotsman in the middle of a battle in the 1620s. He was with a Scottish regiment that was serving under a Swedish commander. During one engagement, he found himself exposed not only to the fire of the enemy in front of him, but also to Swedish guns at his back. The guns were not sufficiently elevated, so the cannonballs from them fell short, killing Scottish soldiers, not the enemy.
From pillar to post - in a state of being harassed and badgered
Usually thought to be from real (royal) tennis, an old indoor version of the game, which involves toing and froing as pillar to post may imply: pillar and post were features of the court and may have figured in a technical term for a certain type of shot. But the expression is ancient (at least early 15th century) and more common than one would expect of a phrase originating in limited aristocratic circles. For these reasons it may well have come rather from the medieval punishment of the pillory (pillar) and whipping-post; these were more in the public domain than real tennis and imply greater inconvenience.
From the sublime to the ridiculous
Adapted from Tom Paine's influential The Age of Reason (1793): 'The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again'. Napoleon may have helped to popularise this idea in its more succinct modern form: he is reported as saying, in the year of the retreat from Moscow (1812), 'From the sublime to the ridiculous there is only one step'.
Full Monty - the whole thing
This British phrase has become popularised in America due to the film of the same name. It has been common in Britain since the 1980s. The earliest attested usage is from 1986 in the book Street Talk, the Language of Coronation Street (Coronation Street being a popular British television soap opera). The origin of the phrase, however, is unknown, but there are probably as many suggestions as to its origin as there are for its American equivalent the whole nine yards. None of the following explanations, however, have any serious evidence to support them:
? It refers to Field Marshal Montgomery's habit of meticulously planning his assaults, including intensive and detailed artillery preparations.
? It refers to Montgomery in full-dress uniform with all his medals.
? It refers to Montgomery's habit of eating a large breakfast each morning.
? Breakfast, but not Montgomery's, instead it's the one served by Mrs Montague at The Lennox Cafe in Bognor Regis, West Sussex.
? It refers to expensive formal clothing purchased at the tailor shop of Montague Burton.
? It is gambler's slang derived from the game of Three-Card Monte.
? It is a corruption of 'the full amount'.
? It derives from a television commercial for fruit juice in which an actor asks for, "the full Del Monte".
? Finally, it could come from Australian and New Zealand slang, a 'monty' being a bet (especially on a horse) that is a sure thing. This term from downunder dates to at least 1894 and may well be the actual origin of the phrase.
Full of beans
See Bean-feast.
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