A-Z Database

A-Z Database

All A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Now a vulgar term for venereal disease but in the 16th century, it was a perfectly respectable way of describing the same thing, deriving from the Old...

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Clap eyes on

Derives from the 16th century usage of clap, meaning to place or set. Thus, to clap eyes on means to set eyes on. Clap into prison or clap in irons de...

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Clappers, go like the clappers

see Hell’s bells


Claptrap now means nonsense or rubbish in the sense of meaningless and empty talk but it only acquired this meaning early in the 19th century. Its ori...

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A word that derives from Old French vin claret, (Modern French clairet) for light red wine dates from The Middle Ages and now generally applied to red...

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Clarion call

A clarion call is a rallying cry or strong request for a course of action and has been used in this sense since the early 19th century. Clarion itself...

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Clean / cleaning house

US slang for getting rid of unwanted people in an organisation, often with sinister connotations in movies i.e. assassination. Dates from the 1980s.

Clean bill of health

This is a general attestation of fitness or qualification and derives from the certificate that ships had to carry from the 17th century, before putti...

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Clean pair of heels

To show a clean pair of heels is to set off quickly and leave one’s pursuers with nothing but a view of one’s heels. The expression dates from the 16t...

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Clean sheet

see Keep a clean sheet

Clean slate

A clean slate, as in having ‘wiped the slate clean’, is a metaphor for a fresh, new beginning. There are two equally valid contenders for the origin....

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Clean sweep

see Make a clean sweep

Clean/clear as a whistle

The expression clean or clear as a whistle dates from the 18th century and refers to the clean, pure sound a whistle should make, especially if it is...

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Cleaned out

Slang expression from the early 19th century for being left with no money especially after gambling.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

This expression is attributed to John Wesley (1703-1791) in Sermon 93. “Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.” There is evidence to suggest, howe...

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