Like a Finger Running Down a Seam
That Fatal Mailing List #69: "From a Whisper to a Scream" (1981)
I owe most of my knowledge of British idioms to Tim Rice and Elvis Costello.
Maybe some of them are just general English-speaking idioms, not specific to the UK. For example, this single couplet from Evita unlocked a couple of otherwise impenetrable phrases:
Although she’s dressed up to the nines
At sixes and sevens with you
I think I knew what being “dressed to the nines” meant, but being “at sixes and sevens” was something I had to do some research to interpret. Not easy prior to Google.
I’m still learning from EC, even songs that are four decades old. There’s a bit in “From a Whisper to a Scream” that has confused me for many many years:
But the one over the eight
Seems less like one
And more like four
I’ve always tried to puzzle it out as some kind of reference to fractions–like, it seems like you’re only giving or getting a small portion of something (Love? Fidelity?) but in reality you’re getting half of it.
It’s actually UK military slang for being drunk. According to the Phrase Finder, the first reference to it in print is in Fraser and Gibbons' Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925:
"One over the eight, one drink too many. Slightly intoxicated, the presumption being that an average 'moderate' man can safely drink eight glasses of beer."
Just the latest in a long, long list of things I’ve learned from Elvis Costello. And it comes in the form of a cracking good pop rocker featuring guest vocals from Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook. Don’t miss that killer Bruce Thomas bass line, especially that one note he plucks under the chorus, you know the one I mean; he drifts away from the chord’s root and it’ll twist you up inside.
Stream this song on the service of your choice.