It’s Glossophilia’s 5th birthday! To celebrate the occasion, we’ve thought of 16 expressions that use the word five (or fifth). Interestingly, most of them originated (and are still only heard) in America: how many of these are in use across the pond? If we’ve missed any, please add them in the comments section below.
a good five-cent cigar: A sensibly affordable item. The remark “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar” was popularized by Thomas Riley Marshall, vice president of the United States under Woodrow Wilson. In one account, he made the remark while presiding in the Senate after he heard a succession of senators enumerate what was lacking in the United States. The remark, which most likely originated with a 19th-century humorist named Kin Hubbard, was appropriated by several generations of Americans to complain obliquely about overpriced items of any sort. (Endangered Phrases by Price)
bunch of fives: slang for fist. (McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions)
five-and-dime: A store selling a wide variety of inexpensive household and personal goods. (Oxford English Dictionary)
take five: Have a short break. (Oxford English Dictionary) [According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms it dates back to the first half of the 1900s]
five a day: Used in reference to nutritional guidelines recommending the consumption of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. (Oxford English Dictionary)
five-alarm fire: A pretty damn big fire. “This system of classification is common in the USA among both fire departments and news agencies. … The system of classification comes from the old tradition of using pull stations to alert the local departments to a fire in their area. The “box” would send a message to all local stations by telegraph that there was a fire, indicating the location as a number: (station area)-(box number), e.g., 11-2. Fires are still dispatched as “box alarms,” following this tradition, with maps broken up into a grid of “box areas.” (Wikipedia)
five-star: given five stars in a grading system, typically one in which this denotes the highest class or quality; or — In the US armed forces: having or denoting the highest military rank (awarded only in wartime), distinguished by five stars on the uniform (Oxford English Dictionary) from 1913 of hotels, 1945 of generals.
five will get you ten: In all likelihood; chances are good that. Taken from betting parlance for even odds, i.e. a successful bet of five (dollars, etc.) will give you five back, leaving you with ten. (Farlex Dictionary of Idioms)
five-finger discount: slang for shoplifting. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs). The Online Etymology Dictionary dates it from 1966.
a five-o’clock shadow: A dark appearance on a man’s chin and face caused by the slight growth of beard that has occurred since he shaved in the morning. (Oxford English Dictionary) (According to the Online Etymology Dictionary it’s attested by 1937. [under picture of a pretty girl] “If I were a man I’d pay attention to that phrase ‘5 O’Clock Shadow.’ It’s that messy beard growth which appears prematurely about 5 P.M.” [Advertisement for Gem razors and blades, Life,” May 9, 1938]
to hang five: to stand toward the front of a surfboard or diving board and hang the toes of one or both feet over the edge. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)
five-o: a police officer or detective; the police. 1980s; earliest use found in The New York Times. From the name of Hawaii Five-O, a U.S. television series about a police investigative unit of the same name. (Oxford English Dictionary)
to give someone five: to give someone a helping hand, (or to to slap hands in greeting: see “high five” below) (McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions)
to slip someone five: to shake someone’s hand (McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions)
to take the fifth: to avoid answering a question, esp. that could cause embarrassment. Based on the Fifth Amendment of the US Bill of Rights which says you do not have to answer questionsabout yourself in a court if your answers could show you are involved in a criminal activity. (Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms)
high five: a greeting where the palm of the hand is raised and slapped against another person’s palm similarly raised. (McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions)
A fifth: “750 ml, enough to get any man wasted, unlike an eigth/pint which some of the above people have mistaken to be a fifth, which is about 16 oz which is what youd be seeing people sipping off of. then theres the good old handle which is 1.75 liters
“drinking dip spit didnt seem like a bad idea after drinking a fifth of vodka”
— by the alcoholic you can’t live without (from Urban Dictionary)
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