> Does anyone know where the following phrases originated and meaning?
Here are the entries from "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers
(not, AFAIK, our own James Rogers).
> 1. Play it by ear.
Improvise; act according to what the situation suggests. The origin is
made clear in John Playford's _A Brief Introduction to the Skill of
Musicke_ (1674): "To learn to play [a musical instrument] by rote or ear
without a Book."
> 2. Going to hell in a handbasket.
Indulging in some minor dissipation. The _Dictionary of American Slang_
suggests that anything carried in a handbasket has to be small. Actually
an older expression is "going to heaven in a handbasket." _Dialect Notes_
took account of the saying in 1913, declaring that in Kansas "it means 'to
have a sinecure.'" Ten years later the same publication reported that in
southwestern Wisconsin the expression meant "to do something easily."
> 3. By the skin of my teeth.
Narrowly; just barely. The teeth have no skin, so if you achieve
something by that slim a margin, it is close indeed. It is a biblical
phrase, somewhat modified since the 18th century. In the Bible (Job
19:20) it is: "My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am
escaped with the skin of my teeth."
> 4. Off the top of my head.
No entry found.
-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky http://singinst.org/
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
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