Where does ‘talking through your hat’ come from?

I’ve looked it up on phrases.org.uk, which gives the following quote as the first usage: This began life in the USA, in the late 19th century, with a slightly different meaning from the present one. It then meant to bluster. Farmer and Henley Slang and Its Analogues, 1888: “Dis is only a bluff dey’re makin’ … Read more

What does Scandinavian Home mean? Late XIX, early XX century. Great Britain

Joseph Conrad, “The Nigger Of The “Narcissus”: A Tale Of The Forecastle”: the two young Norwegians looked tidy, meek, and altogether of a promising material for the kind ladies who patronise the Scandinavian Home. I’ve searched through various dictionaries and completed various google-searches but couldn’t find the answer. Is it something like a brothel? Or … Read more

Is “Who art” correct?

I came across these lines in a hymn: Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,Which wert and art, and ever more shalt be. I noticed that “wert”, “art”, and “shalt” were used with the subject “which” in the last line instead of which “thou.” At first I thought this was just a grammatical mistake on … Read more

What does “d-d” mean? Possible 19th century profanity?

I have several quotes of late-19th-century speech (by British men) which use the abbreviation “d-d” for a word. I’m not sure what it means, but from the context I assume this is profanity of some sort. Here’s an example: It was you brought me up this d-d hill. Any ideas? Answer The word here really … Read more

What did it once mean to “get up” a chapter of history?

In John Henry Newman’s article (circa 1854) entitled Discipline of Mind, he writes “what a lesson in memory and discrimination it is to get up, as it is called, any one chapter of history” What did the expression “get up” mean for Newman? Was it to master a subject? Or to memorize a document? Or … Read more

What does John Stuart Mill mean when writing the following:

Those who admit any limit to what a government may do, except in the case of such governments as they think ought not to exist, stand out as brilliant exceptions among the political thinkers of the Continent. A similar tone of sentiment might by this time have been prevalent in our own country, if the … Read more

Was Zink ever valid spelling for Zinc?

On the Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange I asked What might ‘pitt Zink’ in 1873 South Australian diary mean? and the first answer I received more or less aligns with my thinking that Zink is being used where today we would (in Australia) write Zinc. The writer was living in South Australia, but prior … Read more

A Wild, Wicked Slip

From Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: A wild, wicked slip she was—but she had the bonniest eye, the sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish […] What does “slip” mean? Answer From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “sprig or twig for planting or grafting, small shoot,” late 15c., of uncertain origin. Compare Middle Dutch slippe, … Read more

What does the expression “old soldier” mean?

In the story “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids“, one of the female characters is twice referred to pejoratively (by men) as an “old soldier”. It’s clearly an idiom, since she’s young (“about thirty years of age”) and she’s not a soldier. Here are the two instances, for a bit of context (emphasis added): With … Read more