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Red Herrings and White Elephants: The Origins of the Phrases We Use Every Day

Author: Albert Jack
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Pages: 256
Personal Rating: 0/10
Amazon: 4/5
Goodreads: 3.5/5
Bindings:Hard Bound
Bite the bullet: Getting on with something that has to be done. At the time of the Indian Mutiny, gun cartridges came in two parts with the missile part being inserted into the base and held in place by grease made from the fat of either a cow or a pig. To charge the bullets, the two parts had to be bitten apart and the base filled with gunpowder before they could be fired.

Acid test: The process of establishing the truth beyond any doubt. Refers to a real test used by miners to ascertain whether they had struck gold. Gold is a rare precious metal not affected by the majority of acids. Hopeful miners would perform this test and watch their dreams of wealth burn away before their very eyes.

Hanging by a thread: Refers to someone in a precarious situation. Dionysius the Elder, ruler of Syracuse, grew tired of his courtier, Damocles, for his slimy bootlicking. The phrase alludes to the sword of Damocles, hung from the ceiling by a single hair. Dionysius sat Damocles beneath the sword at a banquet to remind him of his tenuous position. Cicero reported the incident in 400 B.C. to demonstrate how well he understood the fragility of his own circumstances.