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
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'A blessing on an outgoing, a comment on an incoming, shell' (B & P): British Other Ranks': WW1, Lit. 'cash on delivery'.

cabbage leaves.

See: who's smoking.


See: not so green.


See: nothing to c.


See: cut the c.


See: back to the c.


See: play the game.


See: that really rattled.


See: cut yourself; hurry up the; if I knew; it's a piece; that takes the c.; there's a bun; they want their; vy!

cake is getting thin-the.

One's money is running short: Cockneys': C20. In Cockney slang of C20 (ob. by 1950), a cake is a pile of currency or bank notes. The US version: the cake has gotten thin.


See: Wogs.


See: oh, calamity.


See: it's not the bull; that must; you are a c.

California, here I come!

I'm on my way to success: US: C20. Orig. in ref. to the film industry, as J.W.C. tells me, 1968. In Jean Pott's novel. The Little Lie, of that same year, a man says, 'Nineteen years since I took off in that good old jalopy. California, here I come. Only I never made it': yet he had indeed intended to go to California and he was using the c.p. deliberately and allusively. I seem to have a vague memory-can one be vaguer than that?-of Al Jolson singing a very popular song either thus or similarly titled; also an equally vague impression that it was this song which 'sparked off' the c.p. itself. Well, for once, an impression was-in the main-correct. In 1923, Al Jolson interpolated this song, the words by himself and Buddy de Sylva and the music by Joseph Meyer, into a musical comedy, Bombo, first mounted in 1921. But I was lucky, for three friends at the Savile Club, Dallas Bower and the late Luthar Mendes and John Foster White, whose aggregate knowledge of the film industry's history is encyclopedic, came to my aid in 1973 and thus spared me the blushes proper to ignorance exposed.

The phrase has exercised at least some small influence in Britain: a clear allusion occurs in Robert Crawford's 'thriller'. Kiss the Boss Goodbye, 1970:

'We can't afford to wait, ' he said…

'Thrumbleton, ' I said, 'here I come.'

And the New Yorker, on 6 Aug. 1973, heads a review of books about the state thus: 'California, Here I Come'.

'Surely adumbrated, at least, by the 1849-50 Gold Rush slogans like “California or bust”' (R.C., 1977). Certainly! What's more, the phrase 'can hardly have arisen from the song, whose second line is “Right back where I started from”' (Jack Eva, 1978). True; yet the title may have had something to do with the popularity of the c.p.


See: daft; don't call; duty calls; if you c.; many are called; run up; you take.

call it eight bells!

(-let's). This nautical, mostly RN, c.p. dates, so far as I've been able to ascertain, from c. 1890: and it serves as a convenient and most acceptable excuse for drinking before noon, before which time it has long been held unseemly to take strong liquor. (Ware, 1909.) See also Sailor Slang.

call me (or you can call me) anything (or what) you like, so (or as) long as you don't call me late for breakfast.

This mostly Aus. c.p., belonging to late C19-20, is used by one who has been addressed by the wrong name-or by a hesitant or embarrassed no-naming. A.B., 1978, recalls, 'I've heard it [in England] “call me anything but late”-obviously a truncated version'. Cf say something, even if it's only 'Goodbye'.

call me cut.

In Nathaniel Field's A Woman Is a Weathercock, 1612, at IV, ii:

PENDANT:…For profit, this marriage (God speed it!) marries you to it; and for pleasure, if I help you not to that as cheap as any man in England, call me cut.

In the Mermaid Series, A. Wilson Verity's footnote runs thus: 'A proverbial phrase, and a term of reproach, “cut” being commonly used to designate a horse with a cut tail'; rather, I'd say, an asseveration-'call me a liar!'-than a reproach, and a c.p. rather than a proverbial phrase, apparently of the very approx period, 1570-1650.


See: got calluses.


See: his calves; real.

calves' heads are best hot

is jeeringly spoken by a third party in apology for someone so ill-mannered as to sit down to eat with his hat on: C19-20, but ob. by 1940. (I've lost the authorizing ref.: in DSUE, 1937, it appears without one.)

came over with the banana boat.

A var., perhaps even more derogatory, of the next, and applied mainly to the dark-skinned races.

came over with the onion boat!

is a C20 c.p.-rare before 1920-spoken with the well-known British insularity and contempt for foreigners; orig. in ref. to the Breton onion-vendors, who still (late 1975) contribute to the saving of the London scene from drabness. Sometimes it occurs in the form, 'You don't think that I came over in the onion boat, do you?' Occ. 'cattle boat' is used, at first in ref. to cargo boats from Ger. ports; or of Italians it is often said, 'Came over with an icecream barrow'. Two rarer phrases-both used joc.-are 'came over with the Mormons' or 'came over with the morons', the latter not before 1930. (The last two are owed to an old contributor, Mr Albert B. Petch, 1946.) These phrases, and the banana version, are to be compared with the prob. earlier do you think I came over on the later (potato) boat, then?: 'Do you think I'm that simple?'-'connected with simple Irish immigrants or seasonal farm


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


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