Definition: A story told again and again and again and…


” Have I ever told you about the time I went skiing?” Hal asked his dinner guests.

“Oh no,” said his wife,”Not that old chestnut!” 


Despite a gap between its first appearance on stage to its common use in the English language, it is widely agreed that this idiom originates from the play ‘Broken Sword’ in 1816. Now forgotten, the play was a commercial success at the time.

In it, one character begins to tell a tale about being struck by a falling chestnut. He is quickly interrupted by another with the words “… this is the twenty-seventh time I have heard you relate this story…”

True to its usage in the play, the first recorded uses of the phrase simply refer to ‘that chestnut’, with ‘old’ being added later in the century.

Iddy is a bit worried about this particular old chestnut. He’s about to cross a busy road. At his age, he must be nuts.


Definition: Have everything organised and prepared

Example: “You’ll need to get your ducks in a row,” Janet said to Bob ahead of his court date over his 132 unpaid parking tickets.


Once again, one idiom, many possibilities…

  1. Probably the most straightforward explanation is that the phrase alludes to the way a mother duck will lead her ducklings in a single file.
  2. Perhaps it refers to carnival sideshow shooting galleries where the player attempts to knock down targets on conveyor belts with an air rifle. The targets are often wildfowl, and it is indeed easier to knock down multiple targets if they are lined up in an even row.
  3. Maybe stretching the guns and wildfowl theory a bit too far, there are suggestions it may have to do with 20th century hunting licenses and quotas in the USA, where hunters shot ducks on a point system which they were not meant to exceed. If a game warden demanded to see what the hunter had procured, they would have to lay their ducks out in a row for inspection.
  4. In both shipbuilding and aircraft design, the splines that form the skeleton of the ship or aircraft fuselage are shaped with the assistance of weights known as ‘ducks’. To get an even shape, the engineer would have to ensure all their ducks are in a row.

Take your favourite theory and present it as fact in your next conversation. That’s how the origins of phrases become the mountains of disinformation they are!

Iddy’s not sure which theory he sides with, but one thing is certain – nobody’s going to be shooting his ducks!



Definition: to go to bed/ to go to sleep

Example: After a long day of taking care of his young niece and nephew, John was exhausted, and as soon as dinner was finished, he announced that he was going to hit the hay.


Not surprisingly, ‘hit the hay’ is used in the same way as the idiom ‘hit the sack’. Both have been in common usage since the turn of the 20th century.

Many mattresses before modern times were little more than than linen or sacks stuffed with whatever material that was readily available. For many, that material was straw. Before getting into bed, people would strike the mattress to shape it into the most comfortable surface possible. There is some suggestion that the hitting of the mattress also helped to drive off any bugs also sheltering there.

Thus, ‘hit the hay’!

Iddy’s not getting much relaxation out of boxing with these hay-bales. In fact, they seem to be winning the fight.