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

B

B.E.F. will all go home. In one boat-the.

'In 1917 old expressions such as “a bon time” and “trays beans” were not much heard; another had arisen, “The B.E.F. will all go home-in one boat”' (Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War, 1928). More officers' than men's: 1917-18 only. The BEF was, of course, the British Expeditionary Force in France. Cf it'll be over by Christmas.


B.F.N.

See: good-bye for now!


baboon.

See: you are a thief.


baby.

See: believe me, b.; burn, baby; hang in; hello, baby; I don't know nothin'; I got eyes; if you're going; keep the faith; kill that b.; no poes; oh, baby; okay, baby; swing it, b., they can make; this won't; wait for b.; who loves; you've come.


baby in every bottle-(there's) a.

'About 15 years ago a colleague of mine, Edwin Hill, then in Nottingham, used to say this of well-known brands of stout. I got the impression it was Services' slang' (J.B.S., 1979). P.B.: a version of the (?folk-lore) 'Guinness and oysters' recipe for human fertility.


baby wants a pair of shoes;

also, in Aus.,…a new pair…; and, in US, baby needs shoes. A dicing gamblers' c.p. of C20: orig. underworld, esp. in prisons; by 1940, also fairly gen. See also this won't buy baby a frock.


bacca.

See: beer, bum.


bachelor.

See: then the town.


back.

See: don't get your b.; face would; get off my b.; give it b.; go back; got calluses; guess who's; her clothes; here's the b.; hold me b.; home and dried; it's got a b.; join the b.; living high; mind your backs; more hair; no back; oh, my achin'; oh, well! back; put a galley; round the b.; sir, I see; strong b.; take it off; that'll put your; that's what gets; there and; wake up at; what he doesn't; why don't you go; you're on the pig's.


back at the ranch.

See: meanwhile, back…


back in the old routine!

'Here we go again!' applied to an anecdote, a lecture, and the like, but also, more commonly-and lit.-to resumption of work after a holiday or break: since late 1940s. Prob. from 'showbiz'. (P.B.)


back in your kennel!

See: get back into your box!


back o' (occ. of) Bourke.

'In the remote and uncivilised regions generally' (Wilkes): a famous Aus. c.p., dating from c.1890. Lit., 'beyond the most remote town in north-west N.S.W.' Cf back of the black stump, q.v. at black stump.


back o' me hand to ye!

See: Here's the back…


back pedal!

Steady-that can hardly be true; in short, tell that to the marines: c. 1910-35. From cycling. Collinson.


back teeth.

See: my back teeth…


back to square one,

sometimes shortened to square one!; in full, let's go back…. Let's start again-by going back to the point of starting-often through reluctant necessity. 'The BBC's old method of dividing the [soccer] pitch for commentary purposes [before the age of TV] was the origin (in January 1927) of the phrase' (John Peel, 'Squaring up for the Cup', caption to accompanying illustration/diagram, in The Times, 22 May 1982; the article further mentions 'the numbers [up to 8]…correspond with those in squares superimposed on a map of the Wembley pitch printed in the Radio Times'); but the commentators themselves took it from such games as Snakes and Ladders, where an unlucky fall of the dice took one from the top to the bottom line. In The Deadly Joker, 1963, 'Nicholas Blake' (Cecil Day Lewis) uses it in this short form. But it has also been suggested that the phrase derives from the game of hopscotch. 'The grid from which football commentators worked did indeed resemble a hopscotch pitch' (R.S., 1974). Petch, 1974, notifies me that 'the latest form used' is back to square one-and the one before that-with the var. back to square nought ('a square worse than when it started': Richard Miers, Shoot to Kill, 1959), as P.B. tells me. Well, that's the Brit, story (and we're stuck with it!), but J.W.C., noting in 1978 that the phrase has been current in US since c. 1960 at latest, glosses and comments: 'We're right back where we started-we've made no net progress. Originally and literally, landing one's counter (in a table game)-according to the throw of the dice-on the unluckiest of sequential “squares”, reacting “back to square one”, i.e. move your counter back to the beginning'-thus reinforcing the ref. to the snakes-and-ladders and ludo type of game, which is the picture in most later C20 hearers' minds anyway.


back to the cactus!

An Australian navy's c.p., dating from the 1930s and meaning 'back to duty-after leave'. The ref. is to the prickly pear that forms a feature of the Aus. rural scene, esp. in the outback. Dal Stivens, for instance, uses it in a story written in 1944 and pub'd 1946, in The Courtship of Uncle Henry, Cf back to the war!


back to the drawing-board!

(occ…old drawing-board), prob. orig. with 'a famous Peter Arno (The New Yorker) drawing of the war years, black humour, [an] aircraft exploding into the ground, designers on the field remarking “Ah well, back to the old drawing-board”' (Wedgewood, 1977). Confirmed by William Hewison in The Cartoon Connection: The Art of Pictorial Humour, 1977, although in the form well, back to the drawing-board, with an allusion to cartoon captions that have got into the language and with the remark, '…spoken by a quite unworried man with a roll of technical drawings under his arm as he watched an aeroplane disintegrate on the ground'. (The inimitable Peter Arno's real name was Curtis Arnoux Peters; born in 1904, he died in 1968. He was a Yale graduate and nobody's fool.) As a c.p., it came to denote 'the comprehensive reappraisal required when a lengthy, complicated and expensive project has produced a fiasco' (R.C., 1977). P.B.: in UK, where it is widely known, the phrase is often loosely used for no more than simply 'Let's

-25-

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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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