1. Mrs. Hunt was dancing, laughing, and feeling her oats.
Meaning: To be in high spirits, energetic; to act in a proud way.
Origin: An early 19th century American writer noticed that his horse always acted more lively and vigorous when it was well-fed with oats. The writer applied the idea to older people, typically, and wrote that a peppy, active person was “feeling his oats.”
2. Senator Richardson was accused of using his office to feather his own nest.
Meaning: to be more interested in taking care of yourself and providing for your own comfort, rather than doing good for others.
Origin: Birds line their nests with soft feathers to make a more comfortable home for themselves. Since the 1500s, the expression has been used to refer to a greedy person who use their high power positions to make life comfortable for themselves before taking care of the people they should be taking care of. It can be used in a more positive way, though, to mean decorating your home to make it more pleasant and comfortable.
3. We have learned that many U.S. Presidents had feet of clay.
Meaning: A hidden fault of character; a weak point.
Origin: in the Bible (Daniel 2:31-32) the king of a great empire once dreamed of a statue with a head of gold, a body of silver and brass, legs of iron, and feet of clay. The statue broke at the ankles and its pieces blew away in the wind. The king’s prophet interpreted the dream to mean that the empire would eventually break up. Even today, people who are highly regarded may have secret flaws of character (“feet of clay”) that would ruin their reputations.
4. People thought she was going to be a great concert pianist, but Cindy was just a flash in the pan.
Meaning: a temporary success which yields no long-term results; a person who fails to live up to earlier potential.
Origin: In the 1600s there was a popular gun called the flintlock musket. When the trigger was pulled, sparks were supposed to make the gunpowder in a small pan on the gun go off and explode the main charge. But sometimes there was only a flash in the pan and no big explosion. Today, a “flash in the pan” is any person who showed great early potential (“sparks”) but never lived up to their full potential (“explosion”).
5. I had to entertain my husband's friends from Greece. I didn’t know their language, so I just flew by the seat of my pants.
Meaning: to do something by instinct without any earlier experience.
Origin: This phrase was popular among members of the U.S. Army Air Corps in the 1930s. Often, there were few or no instruments on the planes, and if there were, the instruments often didn’t work. So, a pilot had to sit tight (on the seat of his pants) and fly an airplane by instinct. Today, if you do any kind of project and there are no instructions, you may have to “fly by the seat of your pants.”
6. Nick doesn’t have a girlfriend right now. He’s just footloose and fancy-free.
Meaning: not attached to anyone romantically or anything that ties them down.
Origin: In the 16th century, “fancy” meant love, so “fancy-free” meant you weren’t in love. In the late 17th century, “footloose” meant you were free to go anywhere because your foot was untethered. Today, if you’re footloose and fancy-free, it means you’re not bound to any one place, job, or person.