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Words and Phrases Part Seven

This week it’s S, T, and U from The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th Edition (Facts on File Writer's Library) by Robert Hendrickson (published in 2008).

Sail too close to the wind An old nautical saying with metaphoric extension, in this case meaning “to be reckless, take too many chances, risk losing everything.”

Skinflint A cheap, mean penny-pincher, a Scrooge. The term first recorded in 1690, is said to derive from the medieval saying to skin a flint, to be very exacting in making a bargain. A flint is a hard stone and would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to skin.

Tradattore, traditore Tradattore, traditore translates literally from the Italian as “translator, traitor.” It is an old Italian saying claiming that a great book or poem can never be translated into another language and retain all its original shades of meaning.

Trompe l’oeil A painting so realistic that it first appears three-dimensional is a trompe l’oeil. The term is French for “trick the eye.”

Unmentionables Few if any people would use this expression today, but it was a humorous term for both trousers and underwear in Victorian times. Inexpressables, unutterables, and unwhisperables were other such terms.

Up the spout Spout in this sense is a 19th-century word for elevator on which pawn brokers lifted hocked goods upstairs to be stored. Pawned articles thus went up the spout and were never seen by the customer again. In time, the expression came to mean something gone forever.

Remember to make notes of your story ideas and inspirations so they don’t go up the spout!

Happy Writing :->

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