Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings
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Labor pain


Lame Duck
Meaning: A person or business which is ineffectual
Origin: The phrase was coined by actor Garrick in a play he wrote in 1771. In the play he describes Stock-Jobbers (dealers) in the Stock Exchange who could not or would not pay their debts - Change Alley bankrupts waddle out like lame ducks. The expression was taken up by the Stock Exchange. It then spread to the USA where it came to be applied to politicians near the end of their term of office and therefore ineffectual.


Last suck of the mango
Meaning: Conceited.
Example: To think one is the last suck of the mango.
Origin: South American Spanish origin.


Lay an egg
Meaning: Fail.
Example: The Detroit Tigers set an excellent example of consistently laying an egg.
Origin: An egg resembles the number zero. To lay an egg would be to produce, register, or score a zero. When you fail to score in the British sport of cricket, you get a zero - which looks like an egg. The term is also taken from baseball, where a zero is a "goose egg."


Lay it out in lavender
Meaning: Very cool, relaxed and in control.
Example: If I have to lay it out in lavender for you, your relationship was over when she burned down your house.
Origin: A practice used to make a word or words stand out in a printed page by printing them in a different color. Lavender being chosen because it is alliterative.


Lest We Forget


Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: To reveal a secret.
Example: Don't let the cat out of the bag about Karla's birthday present.
Origin: At medieval markets, unscrupulous traders would display a pig for sale. However, the pig was always given to the customer in a bag, with strict instructions not to open the bag until they were some way away. The trader would hand the customer a bag containing something that wriggled, and it was only later that the buyer would find he'd been conned when he opened the bag to reveal that it contained a cat, not a pig. Therefore, “letting the cat out of the bag” revealed the secret of the con trick.

Alternative: At one time, and even today in some circles, some people who have unwanted cats put them in a “gunny” sack with some large rocks and drop the whole thing in the river. Some people would find this practice objectionable - hence a desire to keep it a secret. Letting the cat out of the bag would divulge that secret.

Related: “Buy a pig in a poke”.


Let them eat cake
Meaning: Those in a disadvantaged position should eat the worst of the food.
Example: Marie Antoinette told the Paris proletariat that they should eat cake when they pleaded for bread in 1770.
Origin: This phrase originated prior to Marie Antionette's usage - Rousseau's Confessions, written 3 years before her remark, told of a "great princess" who said the same thing to her peasants at least 15 years before Marie Antoinette's birth. Some claim that the thoughtless remark was circulated to discredit Marie, while others say she repeated it herself as a "little joe-k."

The French phrase is Qu'ils mangent de la brioche and may mean "they should eat the outer crust (brioche) of the bread - the "stale" part - as opposed to the soft inside part.


Let your hair down
Meaning: To behave in a free or uninhibited manner, give free expression to one’s private views, to relax and drop one’s reserve or inhibitions after a period of restraint, to behave informally.
Example: After a few drinks, they let their hair down and freely discussed their family problems.
Origin: (1) Letting one's hair down was a commonplace part of women's daily activities in the 17th century. The hair was normally pinned up and was let down for brushing or washing (dishevelling). Anyone who is unkempt and generally untidy would be described as dishevelled (when referred to hair which was unpinned). One of the first references to this is John Cotgrave's, The English treasury of wit and language, 1655: "Descheveler, to discheuell; to pull the haire about the eares."

(2) This expression may have originated in the days of Louis XIV (1638–1715), when elaborate hair styles such as the ‘fontange,’ a pile of hair, feathers, bows, and ornaments that rose two feet and more above the wearers heads, were popular among French women.

The direct precursor of ‘Let one’s hair down’ was 'Let one's back hair down'. The earliest example is from 1847, where, as in the ‘disheveled’ sense above, the expression was being used in the literal sense. Back Hair was the common 19th century expression for the long hair at the back of a woman's head. Thanks to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, American Heritage Dictionary, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Oxford English Dictionary, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang.


Lily Bellied
Meaning: Used in the southern U.S. to describe a coward.
Example: Why, Coh-nel Jaynkuns, I do buh-leev thayt those lileh behl-uhd Yankuhs hayuhv buhnd At-layn-tuh tuh tha gra-ownd!
Origin: "You can't just say 'lilly-bellied' any ol' way. It has to be pronounced with a broad Southern aristocratic accent. (Think: "Gone With the Wind.") Ideally, you should be holding a mint julep in your hand when you say this." Thanks to 'Cornucopia' & Ivan K.

Related: Lily Livered


Meaning: Used to describe a coward or weakling.
Example: That lily-livered pond-sucker refused to hand over the land title to Shawn!
Origin: The ancient Greeks used to sacrifice an animal before battle. The liver was regarded as a prime omen - if it was red then all was fine, but if it was pale then bad tidings were in store for them. By extension, the liver of a coward was thought to be pale and "lily livered". Other expressions were "white livered" and "pigeon livered".

Alternative: The liver, the largest gland in our bodies, was once believed to be the seat of passion. It was also believed that the liver of a coward contained no blood, not as much "as you find in the foot of a flea," since a coward wasn't capable of passionate violence. Hence the expression white-livered and lily-livered for cowardly. Shakespeare wrote of cowards with "livers white as milk".

Related: Lily Bellied


Liquor’s Quicker


Living hand to mouth
Meaning: To be poor, to have difficulty supporting yourself.
Example: Most people who marry young start out living hand to mouth.
Origin: During the Great Depression and other times of economic scarcity, people often did not know when or where the next meal was coming from. In such a case, when you get something in your hand that can be eaten, it goes into the mouth immediately: ergo "hand to mouth."


Living the life of Riley
Meaning: Living easily without having to work hard, to have an easy life.
Example: While I'm out working hard all day, you are home living the life of Riley.
Origin: "Living the life of Riley" was popularized by a radio show of the 1940s, which spawned a television program in 1948 that originally starred Jackie Gleason but later starred William Bendix as the lead character.

Chester A. Riley was a sort of layabout, working class Brooklyn riveter who always managed to do everything with the minimum of effort, just getting by. The show was very funny and very popular.

"What a revoltin' development this is," was the catch phrase sweeping the country in the summer of 1943. This expression of Riley was a big part of this "typical" family man.

Riley managed to change any ant-hill of a problem into a Grade-A disaster! For 8 years, Riley's weekly mishaps included his wife, their two kids, co-worker Gillis, and the friendly undertaker Digby "Digger" O'Dell. The funeral director ended each appearance with a "Cheerio, I'd better be shoveling off."

"Living the life of Riley" came into the language to indicate a state of being to wished for but, probably, never to be attained. In fact the phrase pre-dated the radio program.


Lo and behold
Meaning: To call attention to a surprising truth.
Example: I was in disbelief when I heard about Terry's new car. But he opened the garage and lo and behold there was a blue Corvette.
Origin: "Lo" is a word meaning "to call attention to" or "to express surprise".

"Behold" is a word meaning "to gaze upon or observe".

Both words are not well known or frequently used, especially "lo".


Load of cobblers
Meaning: Something is rubbish or nonsense.
Origin: The origin is in rhyming slang for "cobbler's awl". An awl is a pointed tool for making holes in things; it is an essential part of a shoemaker's (cobbler's) kit. The rhyming linked "cobbler"s awls" with "balls", ie slang for testicles. "Cobblers" then came to be used in the same way as "balls". "A load of old cobblers" is an extension of the saying.


Load of codswallop
Meaning: Something that is a load of rubbish.
Origin: In 1872 a Victorian businessman called Codd went into the manufacture of lemonade. It was sold in green glass bottles sealed with glass marble stoppers and was jokingly called Codd's wallop. Its poor quality, when compared to beer, although not perhaps with other lemonades, gave rise to the derogatory implications of the phrase. Wallop is a still current expression for beer.


Loaded for bear
Meaning: To be aggressively seeking a confrontation; prepared for any contingency.
Example: Presidential opponents are typically loaded for bear waiting for missteps in office. Bush provided many opportunities to load up.
Origin: Old muskets were loaded by pouring gunpowder down the barrel, followed by the shot. The power of a given charge could be adjusted by adding more or less gunpowder.

When hunting large animals like bear, a large and powerful gunpowder charge would be loaded into the musket. Hence loaded for bear is to be hunting with a powerful charge ready.


Lock and load
Meaning: Get ready.
Example: Lock and load, we need to go.
Origin: This phrase refers to the actions required to prepare a gun for firing.

"Lock" is an archaic term for what is now called the "action" or the "receiver". It was originally called the "lock" because the mechanism locked the hammer back in the cocked position. The trigger releases the lock to fire the weapon.

"Load" is to load the cartridge into the firearm, or the charge and ball in a muzzle loaded musket.


Lock stock and barrel
Meaning: The whole thing, complete.
Example: I want to buy the house and the furniture, lock stock and barrel.
Origin: This phrase refers to the three primary components of a firearm.

"Lock" is an archaic term for what is now called the "action" or the "receiver". It was originally called the "lock" because the mechanism locked the hammer back in the cocked position. The trigger releases the lock to fire the weapon.

Stock is the portion of the firearm that the holds all the other parts together and provides a grip for the shooter. This is the part of the firearm that was traditionally made of wood.

Barrel is of course the metal tube that the bullet is fired through.

If you purchase a gun "lock, stock and barrel" you got the whole gun, complete.


Long in the tooth
Meaning: To be getting old.
Example: Daddy needs a new Porsche. The old one is getting a bit long in the tooth.
Origin: Strange as it may seem this phrase's origin is closely related to the origin of the phrase "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth".

The age of a horse can be roughly determined by examining its teeth, since a horse's gums recede as they age. The longer the teeth of a horse appear to be, the older the horse.

This expression derives from veterinary medicine - some animals have teeth that continue to grow much like fingernails. For example rabbits and rats need to gnaw hard objects to wear down their growing teeth.


Look a gift horse in the mouth
Meaning: To discourage too great an inspection of a gift, which might be less valuable than first thought.
Example: Little Joey's mother told him to never look a gift horse in the mouth - to always accept with a grateful heart what was given him, and not to question whether the gift could have been better or not. Then she'd say, "Be thankful for what you've got."
Origin: A horse analogy explains this saying: the age of a horse is well mirrored in the state of its teeth. Too close an inspection could result in a nasty surprise with the animal proving to be 'long in the tooth.'


Loose cannon
Meaning: A person who is out of control, unpredictable, who may do damage.
Example: The typical Engineer is too honest for his own good, they can be like a loose cannon around customers.
Origin: On sailing ships that had cannons, it was important that they be secured. Cannons are very heavy, and a loose cannon on a ship's deck in a rough sea could be thrown about in an unpredictable fashion, causing a lot of damage.

More than just needing to be lashed down during normal travel, cannons needed to be secured during use, or else the recoil would send the cannon on its way causing injury or damage.


Loose lips sink ships
Meaning: You must keep this secret or there will be a price paid.
Example: Do not discuss any of our plans outside this boardroom, remember loose lips sink ships.
Origin: Popularized by U.S. military propaganda during World War II. The phrase was meant as a reminder that classified information was never to be discussed with anyone without proper clearance and a need to know.

Specifically the phrase means that disclosing a military secret to the enemy could result in large loses, such as the sinking of an entire ship.


Lord willing and the creek don't rise
Meaning: With good luck and no major problems we can be successful.
Example: I don't think you are a good driver, but the Lord willing and the creek don't rise and you just might pass the license test.
Origin: This appears to be a simple prayer for heavenly support and a lack of floods. But the creek is not what it appears.

In the early 1800's there were 19 tribal groups of American Indians that joined together and formed the Creek Confederacy, which fought wars with the white settlers who wanted their lands.

They occupied what is now known as Alabama and Georgia. Therefore if the "Lord is willing and the Creek don't rise" up and start up another uprising or battle, we will be able complete what ever it is we intend to do. The approximately 20,000 Creek Indians that still exist reside in Oklahoma.

The proper phrase is "Lord willing and the Creek don't rise". In other words, the word creek actually refers to Creek Indians rising instead of water.

Alternative: This phrase doesn't refer to the Cree Indians, but to the Creek Indians. Cree is something of a misnomer for several tribes in the northern US and parts of Canada. Creek, however, is one of the Five Civilized Tribes, which includes Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole.Thanks to Nelson Butterworth


Low man on the totem pole
Meaning: The lowest-ranking, least important person in a group or organization.
Example: Have you ever heard of a low woman on the totem pole?
Origin: Some Native American groups carve symbols, one on top of the other, into tall poles of wood. The symbols, called totems, are often human faces or figures, and the pole is called a totem pole. Although "lowest" means "least" in phrases like "lowest pay" and "lowest score", the lowest face on the totem pole is not the least important. The person who created this idiom must have thought so by mistake... few people realize the error when they use this popular saying.


Lucky stiff
Meaning: To be very lucky.
Example: You won $90,000 in the Super Lotto - you lucky stiff.
Origin: "Stiff" is defined as an ordinary person, an average Joe, even a failure or flop. A "lucky stiff" then is an average Joe who got lucky. The suggestion here is that the person was undeserving and unworthy, just lucky.

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