1. n. The love of language

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 17

by Louise


Day 17

(This is a squid, not a squib)


Damp squib.

“Even when I moved to London, despite the introduction of stricter laws on fireworks by then, there was a touch of rebelliousness about the night. Every year was a challenge to see the official displays without having to pay for them. Once you had your spot … the whole city stretched out before you, smelling of gunpowder and celebrating its revolutionary past. This year, however, November 5 is looking like a damp squib, since I’ll be in Amsterdam. There will be no DIY bonfires here – although the occasion is marked by expats, the sale of fireworks is limited by law in the Netherlands and the only opportunities to celebrate are at organised events.” — The Telegraph, 4 Nov 2014

“Crystal Pite’s stunning new Polaris ends this evening of dance to music by Thomas Adès on a thrilling high – and by then, it needs it. With Adès playing and conducting his own works, it’s a musically rich, dense programme. In dance terms, Pite turns it from a damp squib into a hit.” — The Independent, 12 Nov 2014

Something that fails ignominiously to satisfy expectations; an anti-climax, a disappointment. The Phrase Finder has the scoop on its origins.

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 16

by Louise


Day 16
Sweet Fanny Adams.

“Every expat in LA has to decide which way they’re going to go at some point, and it seems a hell of a lot easier to potter around muttering away about sweet Fanny Adams, barge poles and seeing a man about a dog than to adopt a ghastly transatlantic whine, have the fat sucked out of my thighs and injected back into my lips (so that I’m literally – to borrow from one American humorist – ‘kissing ass’).” — Celia Walden in the Daily Telegraph, 6 Nov 2014

In 1869, British seamen started getting new rations of tinned mutton. Distinctly unimpressed by this foodstuff, and possessed of a dark humor, the sailors joked that it must be the butchered remains of Fanny Adams, the victim of a brutal murder a couple of years earlier. Her name, with “sweet” in front of it, quickly became a euphemism for ‘sweet nothing’ throughout the armed services, and eventually passed into general usage. For Brits, it means zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Sod all. Its abbreviated version, “Sweet F. A.”, can also translate to the more vulgar “sweet f*** all”.

The Curtis Museum in Alton tells the full grisly story of sweet Fanny Adams.

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Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 15

by Louise


Day 15

To jack something in.

“It’s not even nine months since Johnny Murtagh retired from a riding career that confirmed him one of the greatest jockeys this country has ever produced. … That he jacked it in at 43 was a surprise, but only to an extent, considering the context of a life spent battling weight.” — Irish Times, 3 Nov 2014

According to Wikipedia, “in the British idiom, the object may appear before or after the particle. If the object is a pronoun, then it must be before the particle.”

To give up or chuck something in — like a job, or studies.

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 14

by Louise

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge And Prince Harry Attend The Inauguration Of Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden

Day 14

Up the duff.

“But whatever Christmas and New Year have in store for Weatherfield it seems tradition that someone either gives birth or dies at this time of year, and as none of the characters are up the duff, it is likely someone is about to meet their untimely demise on the cobbles.” — from a TV soap preview in the Manchester Evening News, Oct 20, 2014

Knocked up. i.e., pregnant. (See Glossophilia’s earlier post on pregnant words.) As Phrase Finder explains, “One of the numerous slang terms for the sexual organs, or more commonly specifically the penis, is pudding. … Dough is another word for pudding and duff is an alternative form and pronunciation of dough.”

Also: up the spout*: “Euan, Kathryn and Nicholas Blair, the children of the ex-PM, 58, had to endure the horror of knowing that their parents still Did It even though they’re old, when Cherie, 57, got up the spout with Leo at 45.” — Daily Mirror, 15 Nov. 2011

In the club.

In the pudding club. “Paula Lane Pregnant With First Baby: Just a couple of weeks after Jennie McAlpine (Fiz Stape) announced her pregnancy, we find out that another Corrie actress is also in the pudding club.” — Coronation Street blog, 5 June 2014

* Up the spout has another meaning: no longer working, or unlikely to be useful or successful. World Wide Words has the scoop.


Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 13

by Louise


Day 13

Put a sock in it.

“When Field got to the pushing phase, Williams helped out… by singing a song from Frozen. His bride nicely asked him to put a sock in it.” — on Robbie Williams tweeting his wife’s labour. Yahoo Celebrity blog UK, Oct 28 2014

A Brit’s way of telling you to shut your mouth.


Shut your cakehole. “Cheryl Fernandez-Versini was shaking with fury after a row with Simon Cowell at X Factor auditions. … In the end Geordie Cheryl, 31, blew her top at Wembley Arena in London. She snapped: ‘I am gonna give him a slap. Shut your cakehole.'” — Daily Star, 4 Aug 2014

Belt up.

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 12

by Louise


Day 12


An unpleasant or obnoxious person. Eric Partridge explains its origins in the Dictionary of  Slang and Unconventional English: “A sodomist: low coll.: mid-C. 19-20; ob.-2. Hence, a pejorative, orig. and gen. violent: late C. 19-20. Often used in ignorance of its origin.  


Sod off (f*** off): “The effect on Rita is shown through the breakdown of her marriage to her lummox husband Eddie, played by big-voiced everyman Adrian Der Gregorian, but his character is so irritatingly simple you want her to tell him to sod off.” — London24, 6 Nov 2014 (also see Dec 5’s advent post). Stack Exchange explores sod off in more depth.

Sod it (f*** it) “It’s a big challenge. I have had a few of those recently with charity things I have done and I thought ‘sod it’ this year! I feel tough and I don’t want to do it when I am too old! It is going to be an experience and I want to have fun.”” — Melanie Sykes in Daily Mirror, 11 Nov 2014

Sod all (nothing): “f you’re desperate to avoid anything remotely pumpkin-shaped, here are three great club nights that have absolutely sod-all to do with Halloween and everything to do with top tunes.” — Time Out London, 30 Oct 30 2014

Sod’s law (what Americans know as Murphy’s law): “Mossop had surgery on his troubled right shoulder when he arrived at Parramatta, having initially dislocated the joint in the 2011 Challenge Cup Final. Three games into his return, he suffered a fresh injury to his other shoulder. … “I had just been rehabbing it, rather than having surgery,” he explained. …“Parra wanted me to get it sorted, which ruled me out of the first eight weeks of the season. Then, sod’s law, I came back and I did the other shoulder, which I’d not had any troubles with.” — Wigan Today, 12 Nov 2014

Also you sod and sod you.

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 11

by Louise



Day 11

It’s not cricket.

“Raising UK interest rates soon simply isn’t cricket, the Bank of England’s chief economist has declared, in an intervention that swapped the spreadsheet for the Wisden almanack.” — The Guardian, 17 Oct 2014

“‘For instance, in the UK, tipping for food in restaurants is OK, although unexpected as service charges are generally included. Yet, tipping for drinks at a bar is just not cricket!'” — Daily Mail, Oct 16, 2014

Not fair, not cool old chap. Cricketers are the ultimate sportsmen: it’s a gentleman’s game. If it’s not on, it’s just not cricket.


Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 10

by Louise


Day 10

Take the mick (or Mickey)

“Rafe Turner, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said a fellow resident at the guest house had made the grim discovery after going to Rogers’ room to feed the rabbit. Rogers had earlier told the man he had killed it after microwaving it for three minutes but the man did not believe him and thought he was “taking the mickey”.” — The Independent, Nov 6 2014

“According to Mr Eagan, the witness added: “Brian was pretty drunk. He was taking the mickey out of his younger brother.” He said that Phillips initially pushed Brian off the stool. Mr Eagan said: “Then he [Brian] gets back up and continued to take the mickey out of his brother and then the incident took place. “There’s nothing worse than being taken the mickey out of by your own brother.” — Surrey Mirror, 13 Oct 2014

That’s what the Brits do when they’re making fun of you and laughing mercilessly at your expense.

It’s thought that the phrase is a shortened version of “take the Mickey Bliss”, which is Cockney rhyming slang for the slightly more vulgar “take the piss”. Who Mickey Bliss was and why the poor chap came to embody the Brits’ favorite past-time of taking the piss out of anyone and everyone we’ll probably never know. World Wide Words has the story.


Take the piss: “Men may fill them, but it takes a woman to take the piss out of a urinal. Or so Julian Spalding, the former director of Glasgow Museums, and the academic Glynn Thompson have claimed. The argument, which has been swooshing around the cistern of contemporary art criticism since the 1980s, is that Duchamp’s famous  artwork Fountain — a pissoir laid on its side — was actually the creation of the poet, artist and wearer of tin cans, Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven.” — The Guardian, 7 Nov 2014

According to World Wide Words, “it’s usually said that the phrase derives from an older one, piss-proud, which refers to having an erection when waking up in the morning … This developed into a figurative sense of somebody who had an exaggerated idea of his own importance. So to take the piss is to deflate somebody, to disabuse them of their mistaken belief that they are special.”

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 9

by Louise


Day 9

Pull your finger out.

“I can still see my parents coming home from parents’ evening with their hair falling out, having been told once again that I was going to end up as a tramp on the street corner. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I suddenly realised that if I didn’t pull my finger out I really was going to be a tramp on the street corner.” — Richard Madeley, Daily Mail, 18 Oct 2014

In other words, stop faffing around and get on with whatever you need to get on with …

There are various theories about where the phrase originated — including that it was RAF slang, it referred to courting couples, and that it was a nautical saying about crew members loading cannons with powder. Read some of those suggestions in this Guardian notes and queries piece from 2011.

Glosso’s advent: Baubles of Britishisms – Dec 8

by Louise


Day 8

Don’t get your knickers in a twist.

“Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style will get grammar pedants’ knickers in a twist.” — Management Today, 30 Oct 2014

“The Hudl runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Tesco’s custom launcher over the top. Now for those of you who don’t like custom UIs, before you get your knickers in a twist it’s worth noting that this means the interface is actually more or less stock Android.” — Know Your Mobile, 14 Nov 2014

That’s what Brits say when someone is overreacting and getting hot under the collar when they really don’t need to. Fraser’s Phrases looks at the history of the expression.

But when a Brit loses it completely, they:

Go off on one. “Speaker Bercow has been sweating about his future recently and went off on one, first viciously attacking a jokey Tory MP for being ‘exceptionally ignorant’.” — Daily Mail, 11 Nov 2014

Go spare: “Former Tory minister Kenneth Clarke said Mr Cameron ‘knows perfectly well’ that free movement is essential to the EU. He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: ‘All our companies, multinational companies, will go spare if you start interfering with that.’” — Daily Mail, 12 Nov 2014

Throw a wobbly/wobbler:  “The president of the Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company Toula Onoufriou threw a wobbly at an energy conference in Tel Aviv when she saw that the pseudo foreign minister Ozdil Nami was participating and immediately put the uppity Turk in his place.” — Cyprus Mail, 12 Nov 2014

That’s what Brits do when they’re upset or angry …