Posted by: Jack Henry | December 9, 2016

The Twelve Days of English: Day 2

Welcome to all of you new subscribers, and a hearty hello to everyone else! Particular thanks to those of you who already submitted idioms to my contest.

On the second day of English,

My true love gave to me,

Two idiomatic phrases

Coined in thi-i-is country.

From The Phrase Finder:

· Pull the wool over your eyes: to deceive, to hoodwink.

The natural assumption is that this phrase derives from the wearing of woolen wigs, which were fashionable for both men and women in the 16th and 17th centuries. The phrase itself is of 19th century American origin.

The ‘wig’ derivation is probably correct but there must be an element of doubt about it as the wearing of wigs had largely died out in the USA by the early 19th century. The tradition has continued in Europe where the judiciary of several countries wear wigs in court.

· A dead ringer: an exact duplicate.

We use phrases all the time without really giving their meaning a great deal of thought. You may well know that dead ringer means exact duplicate, but why is that? To a non-English speaker the two terms appear to have nothing in common. So, why dead; why ringer?

…A ringer is a horse substituted for another of similar appearance in order to defraud the bookies. This word originated in the US horse-racing fraternity at the end of the 19th century. The word is defined for us in a copy of the Manitoba Free Press from October 1882:

"A horse that is taken through the country and trotted under a false name and pedigree is called a ringer."

…that’s ringer: what about dead? Dead, in the sense of lifeless, is so commonly used that we tend to ignore its other meanings. The meaning that’s relevant here is exact or precise. This is demonstrated in many phrases; dead shot, dead center, dead heat, etc.

So, dead ringer is literally the same as exact duplicate. It first came into use soon after the word ringer itself, in the US at the end of the 19th century.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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