A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day

By Paul Beale; Eric Partridge | Go to book overview

A

A.

See: what does 'A'.


A.C.A.B.

'In New Society, mid-1977, there was an article by a Newcastle journalist, who had been arrested at an industrial-dispute “demo”. He spent the night in cells and was fascinated by the graffito A.C.A.B. all over the walls. A fellow inmate, more used to the situation, explained, “All coppers are bastards”. This has now appeared on walls near the Loughborough police station. Another written c.p., like “-rule(s) O.K.”' (P.B., 1977). By a 'written c.p.' is meant a catchphrase customarily written rather than spoken; yet only marginally so. And the date of A.C.A.B.? In this form, the phrase hardly precedes 1970, but, spoken in full, it existed at least as early as the 1920s. Basically, however, all coppers are bastards, q.v., is a mere var. of ' [All those in authority] are bastards': an age-old expression of resentment against the restrainers, the keepers of law and order, no matter how inoffensive, how innocent the latter may be.


à d'autres!

Tell that to the Marines! It occurs in Shadwell, The Sullen Lovers, 1668, Act IV: 'Ninny. Pshaw, pshaw, ad'autre, ad'autre, I can't abide you should put your tricks upon me'-glossed thus by George Saintsbury in his edn of four Shadwell plays: 'I.e. “à d'autres” (“tell someone else that”).' It was a specially fashionable French catchword among English coxcombs and coquettes of the time. See Dryden's Marriage à la Mode, 1673. In short, fashionable in the fashionable London of c. 1660-80.


Abbott.

See: hey, A.


abbrev.

See: excuse my a.


abdabs.

See: don't come the old.


abdomen.

See: officers have.


aboard.

See: welcome.


Abos.

See: give it back.


about.

See: you're all a.


about as high as three penn'orth (or pennyworth) of coppers.

C.p. applied to very short persons: c. 1870-1950. As sixpenn'orth it had occurred in Robert Surtees, Jorrocks's Jaunts and Jollities, 1838, as R.C. reminds me.


about as much use as two men gone sick,

with prec. he's either stated or understood, is a British Army c.p., dating from either during or very soon after WW2. (P.B., 1974.) See also headache…


absolutely, Mr Gallagher?-Positively, Mr Sheean!

had 'some vogue in US from 1920s, from the vaudeville team of Gallagher and Sheean. Virtually extinct by 1950s' (R.C., 1977). It spread to Aus., where I heard it in 1920s, and presumably also to Can. and the UK.


Abyssinia!

belongs to ONE-WORD CATCH PHRASES. It means 'I'll be seein(g) you' and dates from the Abyssinian War, 1935-6. P.B.: but might it not have arisen from the earlier, British, campaign of 1899, against the 'Mad Mullah', or even Gen. Napier's expedition of 1868? J.W.C. remarks, 1977, 'In US, much older than the Abyssinian War; I remember it clearly from my high-school classmates in the early '20s'. Very much in the line of schoolboy puns of the Alaska=I'll ask her; Jamaica=Did you make her?; and dip your Turkey in Greece [grease] type.


accident.

See: since Auntie: what would happen.


accidentally on purpose.

Only apparently accidental, but really-and often maliciously-on purpose: since c. 1880 in Brit, and since c. 1885 in US, according to W & F, who add that, in the latter, it was 'in popular student use c. 1940'.


accidents will happen in the best regulated families.

See it happens….


according to plan

was, in WW1 communiqués, a distressingly frequent excuse for failure, e.g. an enforced retreat; it soon became used ironically for anything, however trivial, that did not go according to plan. 'Oh, nonsense, old man! All according to plan, don't you know?' (The Germans, in their communiqués, used an equivalent: planmässig.) In WW2, there was the similar phrase, withdrawing to a prepared position. In the US, precisely the same process took place-but during the latter half of WW2 and after (R.C., 1977). Occ. satirised in the absurdity of a strategic advance to the rear (A.B., 1978). Cf. advancing….


account.

See: that accounts.


acid.

See: don't come the a.


acknowledge.

See: I acknowledge.


acorns.

See: you'll come.


acres.

See: three acres; wider.


acrobats.

See: may all your kids.


act.

See: everybody wants; get into; get your act.


act of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen! See

time, gentlemen, please!


act to follow-a hard or a tough.

(Usu. prec. by he's or that's.) 'Originally, and probably before 1920, referring to an outstandingly successful vaudeville act which might well cast a shade over the following act, but since at least 1930, applied to any outstanding performance or especially able person. Often carries the implication, “I'll try to equal his success, but don't blame me if I fail.”' (R.C., 1978). P.B.: some use in UK since c. 1975. Cf followthat!


act your age!

Act naturally-not as if you were much younger than, in fact, you are: adopted, c. 1920, from US, where it had an alternative-be your age!, likewise adopted. (DSUE; Berrey.) 'The Australian senses for both include “don't be gullible” “don't be naïve”' (Neil Lovett, 1978), See also be your age! and grow up!


action.

See: sharp's; slice; that's where the a.; this is where.


actor.

See: born a gentleman.


actress.

See: as the actress.


Ada.

See: up a shade.


Adam.

See: ever since.


add.

See: it adds.


admiral.

See: tap the a.

-1-

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A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the First Edition ix
  • Introduction to the First Edition x
  • Modifications of the Original Introduction xii
  • Acknowledgments to the First Edition xiv
  • Preface to the Second Edition xvi
  • Acknowledgments to the Second Edition xix
  • Abbreviations xxi
  • A 1
  • B 25
  • C 42
  • D 60
  • E 79
  • F 85
  • G 96
  • H 114
  • I 136
  • J 178
  • K 181
  • L 186
  • M 200
  • N 212
  • O 228
  • P 240
  • Q 251
  • R 253
  • S 261
  • T 289
  • U 323
  • V 326
  • W 328
  • X 360
  • Y 361
  • Z 384
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