How many idioms start with ‘On’?

I haven’t been doing a lot of blog entries or even posts on the St. Clair Publications Facebook page lately because every available minute is being used to wrap up my 10 year project of collecting, researching and publishing popular English idioms and proverbs: things we say everyday and would like to know how long we’ve been saying these things and why. It has been a thrilling ride, and a very time consuming one. Right now I’m not only working on getting the final edits into Volume II of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, but simultaneously I am ‘getting out the kinks’ of the first three by eliminating duplicates and making an Index Book to tie the project all together. When this is complete, someone who owns  all three of the latest versions and the Index Book can look up any entry in the Index and go straight to it, without trying to guess which book it may be in. And there are almost 4.000 entries! It seems that multiple entries begin with almost every common word. I just finished with the Os in the Index, and there are 29 entries beginning with the word ‘On’. Here are some of them: On message,On one’s toes,On pins and needles, On shaky ground, On someone’s back, On someone’s dime, On someone’s doorstep, On the blink, On the button, On the edge of someone’s seat, On the flip side, On the fence, On the heals of, On the hot seat, On the off chance, On the lam, On the level, On the other hand, On the QT, On the rocks… You see what I mean.. and the list goes on. But if you only own the Original Volume (as thousands of folks do) you only have nine of them! That’s why it’s so important to own them all!. And a signed copy of Volume III can be pre-ordered right now by simply emailing me at, then sending a total of only $25 via PayPal to . Don’t send a PayPal to! I won’t get it! It will be released soon!

This is the only detailed encyclopedia of origins of sayings in the world. Other books don’t go this deep, and a lot of online information is incorrect! Revised copies of the first two Volumes will soon also be out, then the Index!



What goes into true research

I have been involved in doing research and publishing my results for the past thirty plus years. The purpose and goal of meaningful researchers is to find and publish new truth. I admire those who are able to accomplish this, and a lot of them are my friends.

About ten years ago I began researching origins and meanings meanings of English phrases and sayings because I found so much inaccurate information in both printed works and online. The results have been rewarding to me and obviously to thousands of others who have purchased my books in either paperback or Kindle e-book format. I have been fortunate to have some intelligent, educated people give me rave reviews.

90% of the ones posted on Amazon have been 5 stars on my most popular volume, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, original book. My work has been selected by several college and university libraries, as well as public and school libraries, and numerous authors and professors. It has been used to teach English as a second language and as a reference work for obtaining a doctorate degree at a leading University.

But there will still be some who ‘just don’t get it,’  and that’s okay. But when I am able to uncover information regarding a figurative expression which has not been previously published, I feel that I am still making headway in the education of others.

Of course I’m not perfect, and sometimes miss the mark a bit, but I truly try. Thousands of hours have been put into my work, and I have proven some popular sources to be wrong about the dates or coining of some popular phrases. I now have two different volumes of this book in print, and am well into the final Volume III, due out next spring. Once this book has been released, the set will contain over 3, 800 sayings. After that, I plan on doing an alphabetical order index book which will list all entries for the three volumes and where to find them. Just this morning I made a new discovery which may tell how a phrase went from literal to figurative. The possible original source, to my knowledge, has never before been linked in any other book of this type. Here is that entry. This will serve as a copyright on this information:

Playing for keeps

This is an idiom for doing something seriously rather than just for fun. It originated in the 19th century in the game of marbles, which is played by drawing a circle on the ground and each player placing a set number of marbles in the circle, then taking turns shooting another marble into the circle to try to knock out the opponent’s marbles. The term ‘playing for keeps’ was coined to mean that the marbles knocked out of the circle would become the property of the player who knocked them out. ‘Playing for fun’ meant that the original owner retained the marbles brought into play.  By the early 20th century, playing for keeps came to be applied to any matter which became serious. One of the very first figurative examples, newly discovered in the writing of this book, and possibly even the coining, came in Bourbon News, Paris, Kentucky, May 24, 1901, page 4, column 3, under the heading, ‘Playing for Keeps’:

“I know a whole lot of boys, some of them living in Massachusetts today, who are playing for keeps, but instead of marbles, they are using wheat or corn, or railroad stocks.”


Status of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions Volume III

I just received a comment from a dedicated reader and owner of my popular cliche origin books asking me if a third volume of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches (etc) is in the works. It is time for me to notify everyone of the status of this effort. A few months ago the hard drive of my primary work computer crashed! I had done eight months research on a third volume which was on this devise and not backed up. I took it to a local shop which informed me that they were unable to retrieve the files. Later a friend in Utah volunteered to examine the drive and determine if he could do the work. Again, no luck. He did, however, provide me with information on two shops who do this type of data retrieval which is very expensive and time-consuming. One is less expensive, but takes longer to get around to each new job because of high demand. I sent the drive there, and hope that they can accomplish retrieval. Whenever this is completed, I plan on continuing work on this research as time permits.

I truly appreciate the thousands who already own my popular books, and trust that you will be awaiting the last one in this series when it becomes available!

Throwback Thursday

The year on this photo gives it away. This is Rhonda and me on a lake cruise on Lake Mead near Las Vegas on the Arizona Border. This was the second time I had visited Vegas and been to Hoover Dam. It’s a lovely place and everyone should go at least once.

Throwback Thursday is one of over 1,000 entries in my new book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, in its final look over before early release. In this one I have a lot of newer phrases identified, plus lots more old ones. Here’s the entry:

Throwback Thursday

This is a term used for a modern trend by users of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram when posting or reposting old photos. According to an article in Sports Illustrated Magazine, August 22, 2013,  ‘From Hardwood to Hashtag: How NBA Culture Gave Rise to Throwback Thursday the term was coined on a blog named ‘Nice Kicks’ about sneakers in 2006.

Stay tuned for my announcement of the early release date!

Where did the derogatory term “Shameless hussy” come from?

Here is another example of what to expect in my Volume II of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions to be released on October 1:

Shameless hussy

A hussy is defined as an impudent, brazen of immoral woman, and has been in English since 1520. Oddly enough, it derived from the Middle English huswif from which housewife came. In 1594, In The Historie of Ane Nobil and Walieand Sqviel, William Meldrum by Sir David Lyndesay of the Mont had the following on page 531:

“A nasty hussy puts stale into the mashing- and the ale burns the brains.”

Gradually, the definition of hussy was enlarged to apply to any girl, and had lost most of the derogatory connotation by the mid-18th century without prefacing it with an unmistakable nasty word. The earliest use of ‘shameless’ with it to emphasize the original meaning of the term appeared in 1791 in The Busy Body, a Comedy play by Susannah Centlivere, Act V, Scene vii:

“Hey-day! mighty fine! wife truly! mighty well! kissing, embracing — did ever any thing equal this? — Why, you shameless hussy! — But I won’t condescend to waste a word upon you.”

After this, hussy began to revert to mean an immoral woman, often with   Centlivere’s ‘shameless’ before it.

Not by any stretch of the imagination!

I have received most of the edits now on the second volume of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, from my editor, Kathy Barney, and the balance will quickly follow. I am staying busy incorporating the edits into the master manuscript, and all is on schedule for the promised October 1 launch.

In the meantime I have added a few extra entries along the way which I deemed worthy to be a part of this new massive work. One of those is “Not by any stretch of the imagination.” I am posting the entry below:

Not by any stretch of the imagination^ (or ‘by no stretch…’)

This old adage means that no matter how hard one tries, it would be difficult to accept something. A major online dictionary places the origin of ‘by any stretch’ at late 1700s.  The idea of stretching one’s imagination, however, goes back many years earlier, to the Friday, 13 April 1729 issue of the London publication, The  Spectator, in which the following appeared on the front page:

“The Gentleman was as diligent to do Juftice to his fine Parts, as the Lady to her beauteous Form: You might fee his Imagination on the Stretch to find out fomething uncommon, and what they call bright, to entertain her; while fhe writhed her felf into as many different Poftures to engage him.”

In a 1793 publication of The Plays of William Shakespeare, a notation from ‘The Historical Account from the English Stage, Vol. II’ by Malone contains the following with a negative connotation:

“It appears that when Pericles was originally performed, the theatres were furnished with  no  such apparatus as  by any stretch of the imagination could be suppofed to present either a sea, or a ship…”                                                                                                                                    

They got it wrong!

This exciting second volume of phrase origins and meanings will be released on October 1, 2016. Be watching Amazon at that time!:

I promised to post some entries from my upcoming Second Volume of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions. As I have repeatedly stated, many expressions have been wrongly credited in popular dictionaries and online sources. Here is one example which is in the new book:

Beats me^

This old idiom means “I have no idea.” In 1918, Edgar Rice Burroughs is often credited for first using it in The Land That Time Forgot, Chapter 4:

“‘Flowering shrubs don’t thrive in the subterranean caverns from which geysers spring,’ suggested Bradley. Olson shook his head. ‘It beats me,’ he said.”

Again, wrong! It was in use figuratively as early as 1824 on page 57, in Douglas, A Tragedy, by John Home, Reduced to Scottish Rhyme, Chiefly the Broad Buchan Dialect:

 Norv. Weel, I am in a primonirie now— ‘Completely beats me how I’m to get through.’”

First peek at the new book front!

In just over three months the new Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions Volume II containing over 1,000 brand new entries will be released. It is with the editor being polished up, and today I am posting the first look at the front cover! It has many hundred new Americanisms, a few hundred British idioms, and quite a few which are exclusively used in Australia and New Zealand. It has numerous proverbs and quotes not included in the original or its revisions, and even a few oxymorons which have become cliche. Stay tuned to my blog for updates.


Good news!

The first draft draft of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, Volume II is complete, and the manuscript has been sent to the editor. This process will take a couple of months, then a proof will be ordered. That will be carefully examined, and be ready for release by the predetermined  date of 1 October. This work has been just as carefully planned and researched as the first book, and has many cross references to the original, and other entries in this new one. The two volumes have been designed to compliment and  go ‘hand in hand’ with each other. Together they will be like an encyclopedia of phrase meanings and origins, the like of which has never been written before. This one takes a few new twists, though. It contains more national and local colloquialisms than the original. It has hundreds of British sayings and quite a few which are native only to Australia and New Zealand. And if you live in rural America, ‘we’ve got you covered’ there also. The cover is slightly altered and I will be posting a picture later. And I’ve added some cliche oxymorons!

In the meantime, check out the original on our website at or Amazzon sites worldwide. Whatever you do, get the first volume first. Come back to this blog soon for examples on some of  what to expect!

New Book Speeding Toward Completion

As progress speeds toward completion of the second volume of Most Comprehensive Origins of Clichés, Proverbs, and Figurative Expressions, I want to emphasize the fact that everyone needs the first volume. They go together “like two peas in a pod,” a saying which has been with us in English since 1580, found in the original volume. This book has sold thousands of copies and is in several college libraries. It has been given accolades by librarians, professors, editors, authors, and others. It is available at and on Amazon sites worldwide.

Stan St Clair's photo.