And on to the ‘D’s. Doing the clichés by letter is rather intriguing, as one never knows what one will find. I feel like the pickings in ‘D’ will be slim, but I could be surprised. Oh, look, I am surprised:
damp squib: to fail spectacularly and not live up to expectations. I have never heard this one, but it might just be a new favorite phrase for me. How fun to say “damp squib” instead of “fail!” Unlike “squid,”an ocean creature and easily confused word, “squib” is a type of firework. Obviously, a damp firework would be a great disappointment. This phrase has also been around longer than one would expect, first appearing in the sixteenth century.
the darkest hour is just before the dawn: in extreme circumstances, there is always hope. I had to include this one as one of the most over-used phrases ever. No longer encouraging, the phrase mainly brings an eye roll from the recipient. It appears we may blame Thomas Fuller for this hackneyed phrase:
It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.
A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650
There is no written record before Fuller, so he may have come up with it himself, or perhaps wrote some local wisdom into his book. Either way, it certainly has had a long shelf life.
delusions of grandeur: to believe (strongly) in the false over-importance of oneself. Another hackneyed cliché, this one appeared in the late 1800’s, although people may have used the phrase before. Unlike today, where we use it lightly to describe individuals who seem to big for their britches (yup, I used a cliché to explain a cliché), it originally was an actual accusation of delusional behavior, first occurring to Henry Prouse Cooper, a tailor in New York:
“Mr. Cooper was subject to a judicial enquiry for insanity in 1882, an investigation brought about by his brother Stephen, who was also a business partner. H. P. Cooper made no defence against the charge of insanity, in fact he loudly proclaimed it and insisted on being taken to an asylum – “Take me away at once. Don’t you see I am a slave to women and rum!”. The ‘delusions’ that his brother was concerned about included a false claim to have opened a successful department store in Paris and wildly optimistic plans for bizarre property developments in New York. In the course of the enquiry, Mr. Cooper was described as having ‘delusions of grandeur’.”*
doom and gloom: a feeling of hopelessness, that there is no light at the end of the tunnel–unless the light is the one you follow when you die.Originally, this phrase was used mainly in politics or business. Its use was spread throughout the second half of the twentieth century by use in plays and on tv. And, while it seems like it ought to have a long history, the cliché is actually an Americanism coined in the late 1800s:
Slowly, and with a tone of doom and gloom, the ponderous clock began striking.
The Statesville Landmark, May 1875
duvet day: to play hookey with the employer’s blessing and get paid for the day. Since I started with an unknown (to me) cliché, I thought I would end the same way. I have never heard of this, as it is a British practice, but I would love to bring it across the Pond! (yes, another cliche!) This phrase began life in the late 1990s:
… To staff at Text 100Italic, a PR company, there is a third option. They can take a “duvet day”. Each employee is allowed two days a year when they can play hookey with their employer’s blessing.
Financial Times, September 1996
It has become a figure of speech as well, now being used to say that something, i.e. a piece of equipment, is taking a “duvet day.”