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Black Sheep and Lame Ducks: The Origins of Even More Phrases We Use Every Day

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  • 【2010年度之最│外文館】讀《黑羊與跛鴨》,日常英文片語起源越看越有趣!


    在台灣,大多數人都是為了考試升學才開始學英文,因此不少人會將學習英文視為應付考試的苦差事。其實英文也可以非常好玩!這本《黑羊與跛鴨》就是以有趣的英文片語故事及起源發展,讓讀者了解常見片語真正的意義,瀏覽書中令人興致盎然的小故事,片語很快就能在腦海裡留下印象。 Black Sheep and more


The fun and fascinating follow-up to the international bestseller Red Herrings and White Elephants

Why do people put their "skeletons in a closet," "have a hunch," "get the cold shoulder," "get dressed up to the nines," or "call a spade a spade?" These phrases are used every day, yet most people have little or no idea where most of them come from. In Black Sheep and Lame Ducks, Albert Jack takes readers on a journey through the curious- and often bizarre-origins of hundreds of their favorite idioms and expressions.

For example, "wearing your heart on your sleeve" comes from the Middle Ages, when a lady would "give her heart" in the form of a handkerchief pinned to the sleeve of a knight who was about to go into battle. And calling someone the "black sheep in the family" refers to a thousands- year-old belief that a black lamb in a flock was unpopular because its fleece was undyeable and therefore less valuable.

With Black Sheep and Lame Ducks, any language-lover can feel like a "Smart Aleck"-and also know exactly who that was.



  • ISBN:9780399535123
  • 規格:平裝 / 235頁 / 11.4 x 21 x 1.9 cm / 普通級
  • 出版地:美國


Bottom’s Up

When drinking with friends, it is not unusual for someone to announce ’Bottoms Up!’ as the session begins. Many imagine this to be the action of draining a glass so that the bottom is raised higher than our lips.

Not so; in fact, events in history once again provide the root of this well-known phrase. During the 18th and 19th centuries, English press gangs would coerce drinkers in London’s dockside pubs into joining the armed forces, usually the navy. Men who accepted the ’King’s shilling’ were deemed to have willingly contracted to join the navy, and this led to unscrupulous behaviour by the commissioned press gangs.

One of their dishonest techniques was to drop a shilling into the pint pot of a drunk or unsuspecting man, which would go undetected until the poor chap had drained his tankard. Once the shilling was discovered, the press gangers claimed to others that this was proof a payment had been accepted, and the victim would then be dragged away to wake up the following morning on board a ship far out to sea, unaware of what had happened to him the night before.

The unfortunate fellow might then spend years on the ocean wave. Once public houses and drinkers became aware of this scam, they introduced tankards with transparent bases (which can still be found hanging in many pubs to this day) and customers would be reminded to lift the pint up and check the bottom for illicit shillings before they began drinking.

To Bell the Cat

To Bell the Cat is a wonderful expression used to describe any dangerous task carried out at great personal risk. The origin of this phrase and why we use it can be found in William Langland’s Piers Plowman (1377).

This contains the tale of a family of mice who were constantly being terrorized by the fat, grumpy cat of the neighbourhood. One day the mouse household held a family meeting to discuss how they could best deal with the surprise attacks and the youngest mouse came up with the notion of tying a bell around the cat’s neck, so that all the mice would be able to hear him coming. This idea delighted all the others and they danced around in celebration until the wisest old mouse said, ’That’s all very well, but who will actually bell the cat?’ (No one did in the end.) There is a delightful example of this phrase in action in Scottish history.

During the late 1480s, the nobility became deeply suspicious of King James III’s apparently homosexual relationship with his favourite new architect, a man called Cochran. Members of court met in secret and discussed ways of eliminating Cochran, who had been affecting their own relationships with the king. As the meeting came to a close, the unanimous decision was that he should be killed, whereupon Lord Gray asked, ’Well, who will bell the cat then?’ Archibald Douglas, the feisty Earl of Angus, immediately replied, ’I will bell this cat.’

The earl went out at once and seized the unfortunate Cochran and hanged him under the bridge at Lauder. It was an act that earned him the nickname ’Bell-the-cat Douglas’. There have been periods throughout history when the phrase was more in use than at other times.

In 1880, James Payn wrote: ’Mrs and Miss Jennynge must bell the cat’ [said Mrs Armytage.] ’What have I to do with cats?’ inquired Mrs Jennynge wildly. ’I hate cats.’ ’My dear madam, it is a well-known proverb,’ explained Mrs Armytage. ’What I mean is, that it is you who should ask Mr Josceline to say grace this evening.’ Ten years later, Walter Scott wrote in his Journal (1890): ’A fine manly fellow, who has belled the cat with fortune.’

Wearing your Heart on your Sleeve

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve is a phrase used to describe someone who is prepared to show their affection openly and obviously. During the Middle Ages, and the great tournaments where noble knights battled for honour and prestige, it was common for a lady to ’give her heart’ to a knight at such occasions in the form of a handkerchief or other token of affection.

The knight would then enter the lists with the lady’s ’heart’ pinned to his sleeve, for all the spectators to see.

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