ABYSSINIAN MEDAL Military slang, introduced after the Abyssinian War, for a button in the abdomen area “gone astray from its buttonhole.” This is probably what happens to your vest-wearing uncle after a hearty Thanksgiving meal.
AMEN CORNER A California term for a church.
BASKET OF ORANGES This phrase, which referred to a pretty woman, originated in Australia before making its way to England. “A metaphor founded on another metaphor,” author Andrew Forrester writes, “the basket of oranges being a phrase for the discovery of nuggets of gold in gold fields.”
BEER BOTTLE Not something you drink out of, but a street term for “a stout, red-faced man.”
CAN’T YOU FEEL THE SHRIMP? Cockney, from 1877, meaning “smell the sea.”
CHEEK-ACHE “Blushing or turning red in the face rather from the meanness of another than your own.”
CUT A FINGER A lower-class phrase meaning “to cause a disagreeable odor.”
DAMNED GOOD SWINE UP A term from 1880, “suspected to be of American origin,” for a loud quarrel.
DIMBER-DAMBER A street term meaning “smart, active, adroit. One of the alliterative phrases with absolutely no meaning.”
FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE A Lancashire term for “swearing followed by kicking.”
MOUTH-PIE A street term for scolding, as delivered by a woman.
NURSE THE HOE-HANDLE A term from agricultural American meaning “lazy.” You’re not being a lump on your couch—you’re nursing the hoe-handle!
RAKED FORE AND AFT Desperately in love.
SPONGE IT OUT This term, used beginning in 1883, meant “forget it.”
START A JOLLY To lead applause. The next time you do the slow clap, tell everyone you’re starting a jolly.