Lost Expressions

English is a complex language. The version written in North America attempts to simplify some of it, with spellings like ‘Nite’, instead of ‘Night’. But here in Britain, we have regional accents to make it even more confusing, with the use of words that may mean nothing to someone only a hundred miles away. Slang makes the situation worse, especially in large cities like London and Newcastle, where some areas have almost a separate language.

New words arrive all the time too, often driven by technological advances. Words like ‘Byte’, ‘Laptop’, ‘Megapixels’ and ‘Microchip’. That last word is even more confusing, as we already had ‘Micro Chips’. They were french fries, designed to be cooked in a microwave oven.

Along the way, we lost many English expressions. They were once used by almost everyone I ever met, and though sometimes apparently meaningless, easily understood by all.

“Well, I’ll Go To The Foot Of Our Stairs”.
When did you last ever hear anyone say that, I wonder? This was a common saying used to express amazement or surprise, especially in the north of England. I don’t think anyone knows how it originated, but they all knew what it meant.

“Blimey O’Reilly”.
Again used to express shock or wonder, the Blimey part comes from abbreviating ‘Blind me’, and the O’Reilly was probably used just for rhyming purposes.

“Lord, Luv-A-Duck”
A favourite of my grandmother, this was in common usage in London during my youth. Again an expression of dismay or surprise, I don’t think anyone living can explain its origins.

“You’re The Giddy Limit”.
This was usually part of a telling-off, for being naughty. I suspect it implies that the naughtiness is so extreme as to make the person giddy. Whatever the origin, it appears to be a lost expression now.

“Three Sheets To The Wind”.
This was commonly used to describe a person who was very drunk. I still use it regularly, if I see a drunk person staggering around. It has a nautical origin, as sails were secured by ropes or chains called ‘sheets’. If three of these become loose, the sail will be uncontrollable, and the boat will lurch around on the waves.

“In One Fell Swoop”.
This originates in Shakepeare’s Macbeth, and denotes a fierce action resolving a situation with speed and ruthlessness. I last used it to remark on the chatting up skill of a work colleague.
I turned to a friend, and said “In one fell swoop, he will have her back to his flat, and in his bed”. I think that was in 2006.

So there are six expressions pretty much lost to common parlance. Let me know any you can think of, in the comments.

71 thoughts on “Lost Expressions

    1. We always used ‘Beano’, and the coach was usually called a ‘charabanc’.
      ‘A charabanc or “char-Γ -banc” is a type of horse-drawn vehicle or early motor coach, usually open-topped, common in Britain during the early part of the 20th century. It has “benched seats arranged in rows, looking forward, commonly used for large parties, whether as public conveyances or for excursions.” Wikipedia.’
      Cheers, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Interestingly, I always thought the “three sheets to the wind” expression was related to washing drying on a line! I always envisaged a lovely green meadow, blue skies, and 3 bright white sheets flapping away on a long line…hopefully I am not the only one who thought this haha! I love knowing the proper origins though, so thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They are all new to me, but i am not wondering about. Lol Here in school we only learned here so called “BBC English”, and during studies i only had one course with special law expressions. Dont ask me why that, when the law system in the UK and the USA is really different to them in Germany. Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s no flies on you Pete πŸ™‚ Mind you it six of one and half a dozen of the other.
    ‘Foot of our stairs’ is often changed to ‘our gate’ up North.
    I still send the kids to bed with ‘good night sleep tight mind the bed bugs dont bite’ Of course Malina has now asked me what bed bugs are πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Each generation has their sayings…..look at the terms from the 60s that has disappeared or the 80s…..”Pull your head out boy” the favorite of my grandfather…Micro Chips was clever indeed….good post chuq

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to look that one up, Sarah. It a really good one!
      ‘Brass razoo is an Australian phrase that was first recorded in soldiers’ slang in World War I. It is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a non-existent coin of trivial value”. It is commonly used in the expression I haven’t got a brass razoo, meaning the speaker is out of money.’ (Wikipedia)
      Best wishes, Pete.


      1. Here’s another one for you Pete. My grandmother was obviously a ripper of a lady when she was around (and yes, we’re Australian). She used to tell my mother that my mother was ‘Worth her weight in rocking horse manure.’ Mum said she could never work out whether grandma was trying to be funny as it wasn’t a particularly flattering saying!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We had a similar one, based on the fact that rocking horses are not real horses.
          “As rare as rocking-horse shit”. πŸ™‚
          Your grandma was indeed implying that your Mum was worthless. πŸ™‚
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. My niece can read digital clocks, but not analog clocks. People who are unfamiliar with analog clocks will likely stop using (or have they already?) β€œturn back the hands of time”…

    Another expression that has disappeared is β€œsleep tight,” whose origin is a great trivia question.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately, bed bugs are still a thing, at least in the US. Have to check the bed regularly at hotels. Very 21st century πŸ™‚

        Glad I found your blog! Well worth following.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve heard “Yhree sheets to the wind”, and “In one fell swoop”‘here in southern Indiana. I have a friend from Texas, who uses the phrase, “He has his his nest built on the ground” to describe a man who has a really good job or financial situation. That was a new one to me!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. “I hate when that happens.” Typically used to express the obvious when viewing an accident after- affect of any kind… as if you experienced it yourself. The more unique the accident the better it’s application. It was coined back in the 80’s by actor/comedian Billy Crystal when he was doing a recurring skit on SNL. I still use that one to this day.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I still use ‘three sheets to the wind’ and ‘one fell swoop’. I have heard most of the others. I always thought Love-a-Duck was a London expression. It’s certainly not used here. It would be a shame to let them fall into disuse. Using ‘pull the other one’ we always add ‘it’s got bells on’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In London, it was always “Gawd, Luv-A-Duck”, and I agree that it was something of a southern expression, best said in a harsh Cockney accent.
      My Mum would add, “It’s got bells on”, so thanks for reminding me, Mary.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I still hear the “three sheets..” thing once in a while… and “One fell swoop.” The others are very British.. but I would understand the overall meaning if the person saying it had the correct vocal inflection when saying it.

    Over here.. well…

    “Well, I’ll be a blue-nosed gopher!” Shock & awe retort. We have lots of barnyard bromides here.

    Assigning a middle initial or word to “Jesus Christ”.. in surprise, amazement, or anger.

    “Let’s be off, like a dirty shirt!” From my dad… meaning “let’s get going”… the idea meaning if a shirt is dirty you take it off. I dunno.. must be a greatest generation thing.

    “Don’t take any wooden nickels!” My grandfather passed that one to me… Depression Era warning. It means “Watch getting ripped off in life.”, “Play it safe.”, “Stay safe”. It does go back to a time where some campaign made wooden nickels and there was some attempt to assign value to them. I need to check that further.

    “Make hay while the sun shines.” kinda obvious there.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes.. and “Jesus H. Christ” is more a lesser exclamation of discontent.. while “Jesus F. Christ” tend to imply greater anger. There is, of course, the really angry version of that when you call out the entire “middle name”.. which I do often in these politically volatile days.

        Speaking of political volatility… your new man over there, Boris, could be the spitting image brother to actor Gary Busey from Segal’s “Under Siege”. What’s that all about?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I never knew what the H stood for. πŸ™‚
          Boris is unfortunately not that ‘new’. He was once Mayor of London, and has always been an over- privileged right-wing ape of the sort to give apes a bad name. He would better be described as a pig, but pigs are quite nice, compared to him.
          Best wishes, Pete.


  9. They are always coming up with new ones. One day I had a young person comment on my site, “I like this post – like literally”. And here I thought “like literally” was so ‘last decade’ California slang!! See how much I know, eh, Pete?!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I can’t think of any off the top of my head (no doubt, I’ll remember some later!) but it always pains me to hear common expressions misused; like your last example, but given as “in one foul swoop”. Also, when did the expression “vicious circle” become “vicious cycle”?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These are fun, Pete. I remember a couple; “Don’t let the screen door hit ya.” Time to go, you’re in trouble, lol.
    Another one; “Behave or I’ll hang you up by your toenails.” Grandpa used that one on us a few times!
    And one last one: “The good Lord said I had to love you, He didn’t say I had to like you.” πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  12. We use 1, 2, 5 & 6. Sam often says number 1, which his father did as well. My favourite expression came from my grandmother, who when surprised about something could be heard to utter: “I’ve never known the like since old Leatherarse died.”

    Liked by 2 people

        1. I heard that one too. Also a version of it, “He has a face like a pox-doctor’s clerk”. I always wondered why that clerk would be miserable. Maybe he had to be there when the patients were ‘inspected’? πŸ™‚
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Pete! I’ve heard and used “Three sheets to the wind” and “One fell swoop” – but not anytime recently!


    Talk to the hand! Cruisin for a bruisin! Passion pit! Totally rad!


    Liked by 6 people

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