Expressions & Sayings

~ H ~

In Old English a hackney was an ordinary horse (i.e. not a thoroughbred) suitable for general use, especially for riding by ladies; the name may have come from Hackney in London, where horses used to be raised. Shortened to hack, the word is still in use for a horse of this kind. By the 16th century, a hackney had also become a horse available for hire: this enabled the word to become a metaphor for a person hired to do low-grade work. This contemptuous sense is found, again abbreviated to hack, in such terms as hack-work (drudgery) and hack-writer as well as in hack in the sense of 'low-grade journalist'. The modern meanings of hackneyed can readily be traced back to the idea of a hired horse worn out by overwork.
Hail-fellow-well-met - breezily and heartily friendly and informal from the first moment of meeting (sometimes excessively so)
This is made up of two obsolete greetings, 'Hail, fellow' and 'Well met'. In the first, hail meant (good) health and fellow was, roughly, comrade; hail(-)fellow used also to be an adjective or adverb expressing close friendship. The second greeting meant no more than the modern 'Good to see you' and came to be tacked on to the adjective hail-fellow as reinforcement.
Hail from - come from, live
In its sense of 'call from a distance to attract attention', hail was originally nautical and remained chiefly so until the mid-18th century. It was natural for sailing ships passing at sea to hail each other, and a ship that announced it was from a certain port was said in nautical jargon to 'hail from' it. The term gradually came to be transferred to people and their hometowns.
Hair of the dog - (small) alcoholic drink taken as an antidote to a hangover
An allusion to an old belief that the (burnt) hair of a dog would act as an antidote to the bite of a mad dog if it was placed on the wound. This belief was in accordance with an older Roman one that 'like is cured by like', expressed in Latin as similia similibus curantura.
See Make one's hair stand on end.
Halcyon days - calm, peaceful, happy time
Halcyon is the Greek, and in English literature a poetic word, for a kingfisher. In Greek mythology, this bird was fabled to breed at the time of the winter solstice (December 21), the shortest day of the year, in a nest floating on the sea, which it was able to charm into calmness so that its eggs could be safely hatched. A period of calm usually lasting about a fortnight before and after the winter solstice was therefore known as the halcyon days, though the expression has come to have a wider application.
Half-seas-over - drunk
A nautical term denoting the condition of a ship stranded on a reef, rock, etc., partly (half) submerged and with the seas breaking over it. The ship's helplessness is compared to that of a drunken person equally unable to steer a course.
Ham actor - one who overacts
Ham is an abbreviation of the American 'hamfatter', an ineffective actor (1887). The idea may have been that hamfat was a poor substitute for good lean ham, so a hamfatter was by definition second-rate. An alternative explanation is that 19th century black-face comedians, generally among the least distinguished of theatrical performers, used hamfat on their faces as a base for their burnt-cork make-up and as a removal cream, and that this gave them their derogatory name.
...A radio-ham, on the other hand, seems to have become so called from being an amateur.
...Ham is also used adjectively (a ham actor) and as a verb (often ham it up, meaning overact) from the senses already quoted.
Hamlet without the prince - event from which the principal performer or star attraction is absent
The reference is to the play Hamlet in which the central character is the prince (of Denmark), namely Hamlet himself. It was Wordsworth who first noted, in a letter of 1793, the story of a company of strolling players who advertised a performance of Hamlet and announced, at the beginning of the performance, that they hoped the audience would forgive the omission of the character of the prince.
Hammer and tongs - with great force or violence
From the effort and energy needed by a blacksmith holding a piece of hot iron in place with tongs while hammering to on the anvil. The smith has to act quickly to strike while the iron is hot, for cold iron cannot readily be shaped. He may also have other irons in the fire, material being prepared for working on.
Hand over fist - rapidly
Normally used of making money or overhauling someone. This was originally 'hand over hand', a nautical expression applied to the speedy hauling in or descent of a rope by using alternate hands, rather than by the slower method of using both hands together.
Hang by a thread - exist precariously
Originally 'hang by a hair', an allusion to the sword of Damocles.
Hang in the balance - exist precariously
This is an old expression, dating from at least the 15th century, which uses an image, going back to biblical times, of the scales which can be turned by the least weight being added to either pan. It would have been a familiar visual image in the Middle Ages from the many paintings of the souls of the dead being weighed in judgement against the weight of a feather. Anyone who has ever used such an old-fashioned pair of scales will know that two almost equal weights can oscillate for some time before they come down on one side or the other.
Hangdog look - shamefaced, guilty expression
In medieval times animals which had caused harm or death were put on trial and, if found guilty, sentenced to death. The practice was common throughout Europe. In Savoy, in eastern France, in 1487, beetles were formally charged with the destruction of a vineyard and in Switzerland in the same century, it was claimed a cock had laid an egg and should therefore answer charges of sorcery. In an age when unhygienic conditions were widespread, it was only to be expected that dog bites would quite often prove fatal, thus bringing about a charge of murder.
...A hangdog look originally described the expression of someone considered fit to hang, like a dog, for his crimes, but has weakened to mean little more than 'shamefaced'.
Hang fire - delay; hold back, hesitate
A gunnery term, used of a gun that was slow to discharge because its spark took longer than usual to reach the gunpowder charge through its vent.
Hang on like/for grim death - hold very firmly
Shakespeare coined grim death in The Taming of the Shrew (Induction, 1, line 33), where grim means fierce, cruel and ugly. The idea of hanging on (etc.) like grim death came much later, as an intensive form of hanging on grimly, i.e. as if with one's face twisted in fierce effort.
Hang out - live
From the old custom of hanging out a sign or some other indication of one's trade outside one's premises. See good wine needs no bush.
Hanged, drawn and quartered
People sentenced to be executed used to be drawn to the site behind a horse or cart. At first, they were dragged along the ground, but so many failed to survive that the custom grew up of drawing them on a hurdle or hide or in a cart. After being hanged, but while still alive, they were lowered to the ground and castrated; disembowelment and the burning of viscera were performed before their eyes. They were then decapitated and quartered, the resultant pieces being preserved for exhibition by being boiled and perhaps coated in pitch.
...Hanged, drawn and quartered was not a legal formula but a common expression summarising a much longer and more detailed sentence delivered by a judge. It is not clear whether drawn refers to the conveyance to execution or to the removal of viscera ('draw' is an old word for disembowel) - probably the latter, judging from its position in the expression.
Hanky-panky - mild trickery; something improper; minor sexual impropriety
See Hocus-pocus.
Happy as a sandboy - very happy
Not a boy playing in the sand but one peddling it, often from panniers slung from a donkey, to the owners of shops and taverns where a fresh layer was spread on the floor every day to absorb the mud from customers' boots. Why a sandboy should be proverbially jolly is not clear. In Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop (1840) there is an inn called The Jolly Sandboys 'with a sign representing three sandboys increasing their jollity'. This indicates that 'jolly as a sandboy' was familiar enough to have an inn named from it, bit if sandboys' jollity was really inspired by their proverbial intake of alcohol it is hard to believe that an inn-sign would celebrate the fact, unless the sandboys were actually men. Probably they were just happy because what they sold for money cost them very little or nothing. It has been estimated that they could make over 5 a morning, and if they were also given the job of clearing out the old sand before laying the new their happiness might well have been enhanced by the possibility of finding dropped valuables in it.
Happy as Larry - extremely happy
This expression seems to have originated in Australia or New Zealand and dates from around 1875. It has been suggested that it comes from the name of the Australian boxer Larry Foley (1847-1917), though why he was particularly happy no one seems to know. Perhaps he won a lot of contests? He would certainly be well remembered in Australia, as he was one of those who originated gloved boxing rather than bare-knuckle fighting in that country. However, the expression's links with New Zealand make the connection with Foley unlikely.
...Far more likely is the suggestion that it comes from an English dialect word larrie, meaning to joke. A possible link with Australia and New Zealand is the word larrikin, a street rowdy or young urban hooligan, recorded in both those countries from the 1860s. The word may well have come from the English dialect larrikin for a mischievous youth, once common in Worcestershire and Warwickshire and closely related to larrie.
Hard and fast - inflexible
From a nautical term applied to a ship grounded on the shore, hard meaning firmly and fast meaning fixed.
Hard-boiled - toughly practical, sometimes even callous
An Americanism from the boiling of cloth, especially the material for men's hats, to make it stiff and hard. The process became a popular metaphor for similar characteristics in human behaviour or attitudes.
Hard lines - bad luck; hardship
Lines used to mean one's lot in life, which is why hard lines were bad fortune. The origin appears to be Psalm 16.6: 'The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage', apparently referring to lines marking out the boundaries of one's land and home. Attempts to explain hard lines as a nautical term for inflexible or frozen ropes are weakened by lack of evidence that seamen used 'lines' in this sense.
Hard up - short of money (etc.)
Originally a nautical command for the tiller to be put as far as possible to windward, i.e. so as to turn the bows away from the wind. This was done under the stress of weather, which gave the term its metaphorical sense of stress of a different kind.
Hark back (to) - return to an earlier subject; recall
'Hark', an old-fashioned word for 'listen', was used in hunting cries to call attention to something or to give encouragement. Hark back was one such cry, given to the hounds to return along their course to find a lost scent.
Hat trick - three successes by a person or team, usually in a sporting contest
Specifically, in cricket, the dismissal of three batsmen with three successive balls from the same bowler, a rare feat formerly rewarded either by the gift of a hat from the bowler's club or by passing a hat round among spectators for a collection of money. The term passed from cricket to other sports and also into non-sporting vocabulary but retained its sense of triple success.
...Although a trick is usually a prank or crafty device it can mean, as here, a clever expedient or piece of skill.
Hatchet man
The original hatchet man, now a person employed to carry out an unpleasant assignment requiring ruthlessness, was a pioneer serving with an American military unit. He was so called because he used a hatchet in his work, which was to march at or near the front of a body of troops to clear the way for them and afterwards to dig trenches, etc. The term was later applied to a hired assassin, often Chinese, in the lawless early history of California; from this emerged its present milder, though related, sense. A hatchet job (ruthless attack on a person's reputation, reform of an organisation, etc.) is from the same source.
Haul over the coals - reprimand severely
From the torture of suspected heretics in the Middle Ages. They were literally hauled over a bed of burning coals, being pronounced innocent if they survived and guilty if they did not.
Have a bone to pick with someone - have something disagreeable to settle with someone
Originally simply 'a bone to pick', i.e. pick clean. It meant something to occupy one, such as a problem, as a bone does a dog. The addition of 'have ... with someone' was a later natural development.
...Less natural is the way the phrase has come to refer to an unpleasant matter. This presumably happened under the influence of bone of contention and make no bones (difficulties) or by analogy with the earlier phrase 'have a crow to pluck' (have a fault to find).
Have a few tricks up one's sleeve
See Up one's sleeve.
Have a nice day
This has actually been a common phrase since the 1920s, but became ubiquitous in the 1970s. For some reason it irritates a lot of people, probably because they feel it is intrusive or insincere - although few people have the same reaction to 'How do you do?', equally impertinent if taken literally. It first became popular in the USA when in the 1960s the language of CB radio as used by long-distance lorry drivers became very fashionable. They had been using have a nice day since the 1950s. It travelled to the UK a little later, and has always been felt to be something of an Americanism. It is now going out of fashion, even when shortened to nice day, and being replaced by the even more intrusive 'Take care' or even worse 'Take care, now'. The excessively twee 'Missing you already' is rarely used without irony.
Have one's chips
See Chip in.
Have one's work cut out for one - to have more to do than one can easily accomplish
This goes back to the early 1600s and comes from tailoring. In its early sense, it meant to prepare or plan an activity, as a tailor would cut and lay out all his cloth before turning it into a garment. It then went through a period of meaning to have someone else cut your work out for you or give you something to do, much as a tailor's apprentice might do. The expression's first appearance in its current sense of having perhaps more than one can handle is in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The image is of having an over-keen helper who cuts your cloth at such a rate one has difficulty keeping up.
He who laughs last laughs longest
See The last laugh.
He who pays the piper calls the tune - whoever pays for something has the right to control it
'Paying the piper' is an old figure of speech for 'bearing the cost': the idea was that of paying a musician to play for dancing, the pipe being either a sort of recorder, or any of the forerunners of modern woodwind instruments, or the bag-pipes. The second part of the expression, 'calling [choosing] the tune', is a late-Victorian addition.
...There may be an allusion to the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who led away the town's children because he had not been paid for ridding the town of rats, but pay the piper was, in its early appearances, always used in connection with dancing, not with any less orthodox use of music.
Head in the sand
See ostrich-like.
Head on a platter/plate - revenge; punishment
An allusion to the death of John the Baptist, who was beheaded on the orders of Herod. The daughter of Herodias, whose marriage John criticised, danced before Herod to such pleasing effect that he offered her whatever she asked for; prompted by her mother she asked for John's head, which was duly delivered to her on a dish. The story is in Matthew, 14: 1-12.
Head over heels - completely (often, in love)
Also used of a headlong fall; literally, 'in a somersault'. It is a curious expression as head over heels is of course the normal posture of the body. It is a corruption of the earlier and more intelligible 'heels over head' (upside down), perhaps as a result of confusion with the proverbial 'over head and ears' (completely immersed) which is now usually expressed as 'up to the ears'.
Heap coals of fire (on someone's head) - make someone feel remorse
The scriptural origin is an injunction to do good to one's enemies to make them feel embarrassment or contrition: 'If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee' (Proverbs, 15: 21-2, cited as good doctrine in the New Testament in Romans, 12: 20). Here 'coals of fire', an old way of saying burning coals, is a metaphor of extreme discomfort. To heap coals of fire on one's own head is to make difficulties for oneself or do something one is later going to be sorry for.
Heath Robinson
The artist William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) is chiefly remembered for cartoons depicting bizarre, ingenious and comic pieces of mechanical engineering, sometimes intended to perform simple tasks that could be readily performed by hand, to satirise 20th century preoccupations with technological gadgetry. His name is still applied to any unfamiliar contraption of homemade appearance.
Hell for leather - very quickly
From horse-riding, probably an obscure mixture of 'like hell' (very vigorously) and 'leather' as a verb meaning to thrash.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
A misquotation from William Congreve's tragedy The Mourning Bride (1697), III, 8: 'Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, / Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned.
Hewers of wood (and drawers of water) - people doing dull, menial work
Literary and jocular, originally biblical: 'Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God' were the words of Joshua cursing the Gibeonites during his conquest of Canaan (Joshua, 9: 23).
Hide a multitude of sins - conceal blemishes
Of biblical origin, though with a slightly different meaning: 'he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins' (James, 5: 20).
...The variant cover a multitude of sins is also biblical (I Peter, 4: 8), but is now often used to mean 'include or mean all manner of things'.
Hide one's light under a bushel - modestly conceal one's talent
Bushel is an obsolete word for both a fixed measure (8 gallons and about 2,200 cubic inches) and for the solid container of pottery or wood used to measure it. A candle or other light placed under a bushel would of course be invisible. The whole phrase is an allusion to Christ's Sermon on the Mount: 'Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candle-stick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house' (Matthew, 5: 15). This is part of an encouragement to Christ's followers to demonstrate their faith, though in common use the expression now has no spiritual significance.
High and dry - stranded; without resources or support
A nautical metaphor: a ship that is beached or on the rocks is left high by the receding tide and dry by being out of the water.
High dudgeon - anger and resentment
High dudgeon is so much a set phrase that no other type of dudgeon exists any longer, and even the origin of the word is lost. It first appeared in the 16th century, when you could simply be 'in dudgeon' when angry and resentful, and even in 1816 Scott could write about 'deep dudgeon', but it has been fixed at high since about the middle of the 19th century
High jinks - excited, high-spirited behaviour
The phrase, of Scottish origin, goes back to around the turn of the 20th century and refers to pranks and frolics indulged in at drinking parties. It comes from a game of the same name. This game was one of forfeits and involved the throwing of dice to see whom amongst the assembled company should drink a large bowl of liquor and who should then pay for it.
Hit and run
Applied to a driver who fails to stop after an accident or to a criminal who acts swiftly and flees. The term is from baseball, describing a manoeuvre when a base-runner starts to run as the pitcher throws and the batter attempts a hit.
Hit/knock for six - wrecked, defeated
In cricket a ball that is hit over the boundary without touching the ground scores six - exceptional enough for the bowler of such a ball to feel a sense of failure. A person who is said to have been hit for six is seriously upset: a thing hit for six has been badly damaged.
Hitch one's wagon to a star - set oneself high aspirations
In its original formulation by the American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) in Society and Solitude (1870), star is used in its vague poetic sense of something distant and beautiful that guides human destiny, while hitching your wagon is a homespun Americanism for securing a wagon to whatever draws it along. The whole expression meant hitching one's wagon (i.e. life) to someone else's star, i.e. aspiring to the admirable example set by that person, though it has now rather degenerated into a sense of throwing in one's lot with someone who is apparently successful.
Hobson's choice - no choice at all
Thomas or Tobias Hobson (1544-1631) was a Cambridge carrier who hired out horses but compelled customers either to take the horse next in line or to go without. Because he insisted on this strict rotation, everyone was treated alike and no horse was overworked. No doubt, he was known to generations of Cambridge undergraduates and their slang was responsible for broadcasting his name and scrupulousness.
Hocus-pocus - gibberish; pointless activity; trickery
A meaningless Latin-sounding formula that used to be spoken by conjurers or jugglers to give an air of mystery or magic to their performance. It may have originated with a specific early 17th century conjurer who not only used the formula but also adopted it as his stage-name; it certainly became popular as a name or nickname of conjurers. There have been conjectures that the expression is a parody of the Latin 'Hoc est corpus meum' ('This is my body', the words of consecration in the Mass) but this is impossible to prove.
...Hoax is almost certainly a contraction of hocus, it is also believed that hanky-panky comes from this root.
Hoi polloi
This term from the Greek meaning literally 'the many' is used to mean the majority or the masses. It is rarely flattering. The hypercorrect will tell you that it should never be used in the form 'the hoi polloi' since hoi already means 'the', and to use both shows your ignorance. In fact, this is a 20th-century worry, 'the hoi polloi' being standard in earlier uses. John Dryden is the first recorded user of the term in English, and he set the pattern and the tone for its use when he wrote, 'If by the people you understand the multitude, the hoi polloi, 'tis no matter what they think; they are sometimes in the right, sometimes in the wrong: their judgement is a mere lottery' (Of Dramatick Poesie, 1668)
Hoist by one's own petard - made a victim of one's own (malicious) intentions or actions
Properly 'with', not 'by', if one is to be true to the original in Hamlet (III, 4, lines 206-7): 'For 'tis the sport to have the engineer/Hoist with his own petard'. An engineer in this context is the equivalent of a sapper in the modern army, and a petard - which gets its name from the French word for to fart - is a primitive type of bomb or grenade, used to blow open city gates. Explosives were, in those days, even more unreliable than today, and fuses were likely to ignite a device as soon as touched, so it would be no rare thing to have an engineer blown up (hoist) by his own petard as he tried to use it.
Hold forth - speak lengthily and self-importantly
The Bible instructs Christians that they should go through the world 'Holding forth the word of life' (Philippians 2:16). From this to hold forth came to be used for delivering a sermon or bearing witness to the Word of God. Since people who are sermonising tend to speak both at length and somewhat obsessively, it is easy to see how the modern senses of to hold forth developed. This had happened by the 18th century, but since hold forth could still be used at the time for 'hold out, present', some rather incongruous uses, to the modern ear, can be found, such as Burns's 'In plain braid Scots hold forth a plain braid story' (Brigs of Ayr, 1787).
Hold the fort - look after things or keep them running in the absence of the person normally responsible
Popularly believed to be the words semaphored by General Sherman to General Corse from the top of Kennesaw Mountain, near Atlanta, Georgia, during the Battle of Allatoona (1864) in the American Civil War. The expression owes its currency - at least in Britain - to the use made of this famous historical incident in a poem or hymn by Philip Bliss (1838-76) about spiritual assistance in a time of difficulty: '"Hold the fort, for I am coming", / Jesus signals still'.
...This poem or hymn was introduced to the British public by the well-known American evangelists Moody and Sankey during their campaign in 1873. Their popular hymn-book, Sacred Songs and Solos, remained in widespread use in Protestant churches and chapels in Britain until the middle of the 20th century, with the result that hold the fort, jocularly secularised, entered everyday vocabulary.
Holier-than-thou - offensively self-righteous
A quotation from the words of the prophet Isaiah about people who say 'Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose ...' (65: 5)
Holy Grail - uniquely prized object of search or quest; high ideal
According to Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail was Christ's cup (or plate) at the Last Supper. It was then used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch some of Christ's blood at the Crucifixion and was brought by Joseph to North Wales, where it disappeared. Manifesting itself from time to time to a chosen few, the Grail became the object of sacred quest by the Knights of the Round Table, the three purest of whom finally received it from Christ's hands at the castle of Corbenic, from where they carried it to Sarras. Grail, an old word for bowl, cup or platter, now exists only in this context.
Holy of holies, the - a room of which the privacy is jealously guarded or whose occupant is regarded with awe
A literal translation, found in early versions of the Bible (e.g. Wyclif's: see Exodus, 26: 34) but not in the Authorised Version, of a Hebrew term for the innermost apartment of the Jewish Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, only to be opened by the High Priest on one day a year, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
Home straight / stretch
The home straight or stretch (the usual term in the USA) is the part of a racecourse, usually straight, leading up to the finish. By the middle of the 19th century the expression was being used for the final part of an enterprise or journey, often with implication that there is not much left to be done. Thus, an American newspaper wrote in 1864, 'Already we see the slave States ... on the home-stretch to become free.'
Home sweet home
The title of an immensely popular song taken from the melodrama Clari, or the Maid of Milan (1823) written by the American John Howard Payne (1791-1852) - who never had a home in his life - with six musical numbers composed by Sir Henry Bishop (1786-1855), a noted home-wrecker. The words do not actually occur in the body of the song, though 'home, sweet sweet home' does.
Hook, line and sinker, (swallow) - (believe, accept, etc.) completely
From angling: the hook, which carries the bait, is attached to the fishing line, and the sinker is the weight that keeps the hook beneath the surface. A fish that swallows all three shows unusual, even improbable, greed.
Hop the twig - die
The first recorded use of this expression dates from 1797 in a book by Mary Robinson, Walsingham; or the Pupil of Nature: 'He kept his bed three days, and hopped the twig on the fourth'. At first, it meant to go away suddenly, for example to avoid creditors, and it is from this that the figurative sense arises. It is connected also with hop it!, a request to somebody to depart without delay, and with the British slang phrase hop the wag for playing truant, which is still heard in places. In the early part of the 20th century, the expression was modified into drop off the twig, hop the perch, and various other forms.
Hope springs eternal (in the human breast)
Catchphrase taken from Pope's Essay on Man (1732-4), Epistle I, line 95.
How the other half lives - how other people live
In its full form the proverb is 'One half of the world does not know how the other half lives'. Its earliest appearance in English is dated to 1607 but it is found in French in Rabelais' Pantagruel in 1532. More recently, it gained currency as the title of a book (1890) by Jacob Riis. It is now most commonly used as a jocular or envious comment on the lifestyle of the wealthy, though originally the other half was the poor.
Hue and cry - public outcry of alarm, protest, etc.
The modern meaning goes back to part of English common law in the centuries after the Norman Conquest. At that time, there was no organised police force and the job of fighting crime fell mostly on ordinary people. If someone robbed you, or you saw a murder or other crime of violence, it was up to you to raise the alarm, the hue and cry. Everyone in the neighbourhood was then obliged to drop what they were doing and help pursue and capture the criminal. If the criminal was caught with stolen goods, he was summarily convicted, while if he resisted arrest he could be killed.
...The word hue is from the first part of the Anglo-Norman French legal phrase hu e cri. This came from the Old French hu for an outcry, in turn from huer, to shout. It seems that hue could mean any cry, or even the sound of a horn or trumpet - the phrase hu e cri had a Latin equivalent, hutesium et clamor, 'with horn and with voice'.
...The Old French huer survived in Cornwall right down to the 19th century. At that time, a key part of the local livelihood came from the seasonal catch of pilchards, which migrated past the coast in great shoals. To be sure of not missing their arrival, fishermen posted lookouts on the cliffs, who would sound horns to warn the waiting fishermen below. These lookouts were called huers.
Hydra-headed - variously and persistently troublesome or evil
The hydra was an enormous nine-headed serpent in Greek mythology. It lived in a marsh in the Peloponnese, ravaging herds and crops and killing people with the poison of its breath. One of the 12 labours of Hercules was to destroy it; when Hercules attempted to do so he found that if he cut off one head two grew in its place, but he finally succeeded with the help of red-hot brands. In modern imagery, the hydra is used of any multi-faceted problem or wickedness that presents fresh difficulties as soon as one is solved.
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