16. Salad days
> Meaning: A period of youthful innocence and/or inexperience
We owe this one to Shakespeare, who had Cleopatra — in “Antony and Cleopatra,” from 1606 — speak of “My salad days, when I was green in judgment…” The operative word here is “green,” a synonym for inexperience.
17. Sell like hotcakes
> Meaning: Sell easily and quickly
American journalist and author Charles Frederick Briggs first used this expression in print in 1839. It is believed to derive from the fact that hotcakes, or pancakes, were often sold at church bazaars and country fairs and were best eaten hot off the griddle.
18. Small potatoes
> Meaning: An insignificant person or thing
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet who wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” used this idiom in 1797. Some sources suggest that it was a reference to the undersized, blighted potatoes harvested in Ireland during periods of famine. These potatoes were nutritionally negligible compared to the healthy potatoes that would have grown under normal conditions.
19. Smart cookie
> Meaning: An intelligent person
The use of “cookie” to mean “person” is American slang from the 1920s. Nobody knows exactly why. Besides smart cookies, though, there are also “tough” ones.
20. Spill the beans
> Meaning: Give away a secret
This is American slang, dating back to the early 1900s. It originally meant to upset or spoil something, and gradually took on the meaning of betraying a confidence.
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