A-Z Database

A-Z Database

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Shift the goalposts

see Move/shift the goalposts


The word shifty dates from the late 16th century when it meant full of moves, expedients or changes. It did not have the derogatory meaning of sly or...

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To vacillate or display indecision dates from the late 17th/early 18th century and derives from a fanciful reduplication of ‘shall I?’


A shindig is a noisy dance party, an Americanism that dates from the late 19th century. The origin is obscure. Some source maintain it derives from an...

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American slang for a black person dates from the late 19th/early 20th century.

Ships that pass in the night

This expression has come to describe people or experiences of a fleeting, inconsequential nature. The source is Longfellow (1807-1882) Tales of a Ways...

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Shipshape (and Bristol fashion)

Arranged neatly and compactly, as things on board ship should be. Shipshape was more likely to be shipshapen in the late 16th/early 17th century, but...

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Shirt lifter

Australian slang for a male homosexual dates from the 1960s.


see Keep your shirt on

Shit a brick

Originally, from the 19th century, this low vulgarism described defecation after a period of constipation. From the early 20th century, it had become...

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Shit bag

During the 19th century this was slang for the stomach. Only from the early 20th century did it become figurative for an unpleasant person.

Shit from Shinola

As in does not know shit from Shinola, meaning either very ignorant or very innocent is US military slang from WWII. Shinola is a popular brand of sho...

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Shit hits the fan

Very little is left to the imagination in this rather vulgar expression meaning trouble in the form of an unholy mess. It seems to be of US origin fro...

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Shit hole

Slang for the rectum dates from the 19th century but since the early 20th century is more frequently used to describe an unpleasant place.

Shit house

American slang for a privy or toilet, particularly an outhouse, dates from the 19th century. See also built like a brick shit house.

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