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Let me phrase this another way ...

Byline: Denis Kilcommons

THE simplest things can fascinate.

I was asked to solve the problem of the phrase happy as Larry and discovered it had its origins with a champion bare-knuckle boxer of that name in New Zealand. But this was not enough for Kev.

"What about as right as ninepence? Where does that come from?" he said.

"You don''t realise how much research this will take," I replied. Although all I did was log onto The Phrase F der on the internes t and all was revealed, along with many other

Some I thought were modern are actually ancient.

As bald as a coot, for instance, can be traced back to 1430.

Chaucer is responsible for providing us with brown as a berry and busy as a bee. He used both in the 14th century Canterbury Tales.

As cool as a cucumber was first noted in 1732, as dead as a doornail comes from the 14th century and happy as a sandboy is from the early 19th century. Sandboys were men employed in inns to lay fresh layers of sand on the floor.

As daft as a brush, which gained national fame when Sir Bobby Robson used the expression to describe Paul Gascoigne in the 1990 World Cup, was used in the mid 19th century when it was daft as a besom. A besom being a brush.

But, back to ninepence.

It has been suggested it comes from the game of skittles or ninepins, but The Phrase Finder has found the first reference in a book of English proverbs from 1659: "as fine as fippence, as neat as nine pence."

The connection was money rather than skittles, and there was a nine pence coin in circulation during that period. Neat as ninepence later became nice as ninepence and right as ninepence.

Problem solved.


* PAUL GASCOIGNE: 'Daft as a brush'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 5, 2011
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