There are certain phrases that we just don't use any more. Or at least, not in the way they were originally conceived. Some are just strange, things that seem so very particular as to be too useless to remain current. Like, "She had Irish blue eyes put in with the smutty finger." Whaa?? Evidently this means that they had a smokey ring around the iris. If it were "put in with the smutty thumb" it would mean thick, dark eyelashes. Thanks, Agatha, for a phrase I will never have any reason to use because aside from being completely foreign to the modern person, it's just awkward to say. "With the smutty finger"? Why a definite article? Does it imply that God only uses one finger to play with ashes and occasionally also to put in eyeballs? Another favorite is "mare's nest," as in, "Well this is a right old mare's nest you've gotten us into." It means "complex situation," almost "imbroglio," but without the connotation of scandal.
The two phrases/words that have gotten me laughing again and again though are both redefinitions. I will give examples (though not quotes; again: lazy).
Suddenly, the Colonel left the room. Miss Marple ejaculated. "What is it?" cried her friend, startled by the uncharacteristic outburst.Yes, that's right: boring old Miss Marple and her knitting are ejaculating all the time. All the time! And so are Holmes and Watson. If things get the least bit tense, Watson can't help himself. And when Holmes ejaculates, well, Watson is always startled, no matter how many times it happens.
"Watson, I'm sorry to knock you up so early in the morning, but it's really quite urgent."
"What? Sherlock, why are you knocking me up so early?"
"It's not me really, but a lady downstairs. And whenever a young lady knocks you up so early in the morning, you know it must be vitally important and I knew you wouldn't want to miss it."
The "knocked up" thing was quite unexpected. I mean, I'm familiar with the multiple meanings of "ejaculate," but I'd never seen "knocked up" used to mean "sought out" or "rung up" before. It kind of sheds new light on the provenance of the meaning "to be pregnant," don't you think? I mean, can you imagine fifty years from now if "to ring up" were to mean "to impregnate"? All kinds of British movies will cease to stand the test of time! Everyone will be ringing everyone up all the time and we will seem like the most lascivious of cultures!
Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy those two little artifacts.