Oh, it is time for ‘O’s!
on the nail: one has hit the meaning on the head. This came about as a monetary phrase, meaning ‘spot cash’ (paying at the time). The origin seems a bit uncertain, as both the Dutch and the Germans also use this phrase. It is also referenced in a Scottish deed from 1326. Ireland has some claim to it, as well, as there was a pillar in Limerick that was topped with a copper plate under the Exchange. The pillar was called “The Nail” and a buyer would place his money on the copper plate. It seems more likely that the pillar was named after the cliché than that the cliché came from the pillar, based on the timeline.
one horse town: a town so sleepy and lifeless that one horse might do all the work. I admit, I thought this might have been said of a town that could afford one horse. I don’t suppose it makes much difference. The phrase is definitely an Americanism, and is thought to have originated in New Orleans. The popularity of the cliché didn’t spread until it reached Boston, where it expanded quickly.
on the bubble: on the edge, particularly for sporting events-one may make the cut, but could still be pushed out if a following competitor does better. This phrase definitely comes from the American car racing. Indy 500 reporters in 1970 used the term:
On the ‘bubble’ is rookie Steve Krisiloff whose 162.448 m.p.h. was the slowest qualifying speed last weekend. With only six spots open, Krisiloff’s machine would be ousted if seven cars qualified at a faster speed this week end.
–The Lima News, May 1970
on the quiet: also known as “qt” or “down low”, meaning to keep something secret to the benefit of all. The phrase, although popular in American culture in the last decades, is more likely to be a British saying. The phrase is also older than one might expect given its recent popularity, with the first written record is from 1862:
Unless men can work [the gold] on ‘the quiet’, they are not likely to make ‘piles’ so rapidly as Messrs. Hartley and Riley.
—Otago: Goldfields & Resources
I will finish with a classic phrase, both in gravity and origin:
once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more: we must try yet again, despite overwhelming odds. This is a rallying cry from Henry V, Act III, 1598, in which Henry was exhorting his Army to break through gap in the wall surrounding the city of Harfleur, which was under siege by the English.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
–Shakespeare, King Henry V, 1598