Today we are on to clichés that start with B. I would like to take a moment to thank the editors of the of Phrases.org.uk, one of my favorite places to find cliché histories. Not only are they accurate and detailed, but they are alphabetical! Makes my current endeavor so much easier 🙂
best bib and tucker: to put on one’s best clothes to go out. This is very old, with the definition of ‘tucker’ dating back to 1688:
a narrow piece of cloth which compasseth the top of a Womans Gown about the Neck part
The ‘bib’ refers to the article of clothing that was worn by children, as well as women, and extended from the throat to the waist. “Best bib and tucker,” therefore, was first used to refer to women. The term was expanded to mean anyone of any gender who was dressed up to go out in their best attire.
burn the candle at both ends: to do too much. Originally, this phrase was used to describe couples who were both spendthrifts. Having no material wealth left, they were considered to use both ends of a candle. It gradually changed over the centuries to mean those who worked day and then night, thus burning themselves out. It was first found in print in an French-English dictionary:
Brusler la chandelle par lex deux bouts
back-seat driver: someone who criticizes unnecessarily from a safe vantage point. This phrase was used frequently in the early twentieth century when motor cars became common. The first car was manufactured in 1886 and by 1908 became a popular form of transportation. By the 1920s backseat drivers had already became a hindrance:
A back-seat driver is the pest who sits on the rear cushions of a motor car and tells the driver what to do. He issues a lot of instructions, gives a lot of advice, offers no end of criticism. And doesn’t do a bit of work.
The Bismarck Tribune – December 1921
bad hair day: the ultimate bad day–not only is one’s hair unmanageable, but nothing else goes right either. The term has expanded to mean any bad day, whether one’s hair is beautiful or not. The term was first used in print in 1988 in a Californian paper, although it may have a verbal history before that. It was, however, the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer that gave rise to its popularity:
Buffy (Kristy Swanson) to the one-armed vampire Amilyn (Paul Reubens):
“I’m fine but you’re obviously having a bad hair day.”
bandy words with: to ague persistently, often in a fun, witty exchange. The word ‘bandy’ means to toss to and fro, and the word originally meant a rather ferocious game using balls. It later came to be associated with tennis, as the ball was ‘bandied’ back and forth. Tennis was popular in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and the term was used frequently. It is later that it came to be used to mean words being tossed back and forth, as in an argument, although is an easy path to follow.
It was not for me to bandy civilities with my sovereign.
Samuel Johnson, 1767