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cut a swath To show off or attract attention to one-self; to make a pretentious display; to cut a dash. This expression, which dates from 1843, is a figurative extension of swath ‘the strip or belt cut by the sweep of a scythe.’
English Any extra something that gives flourish or pizzazz to an otherwise ordinary movement or gesture; side spin on a ball. The following explanation of the origin of this American term appeared in the London Sunday Times in April 1959:
The story goes that an enterprising gentleman from these shores travelled to the United States during the latter part of the last century and impressed the Americans with a demonstration of the effect of “side” on pool or billiard balls. His name was English.
This expression, which dates from 1869, is most often used in reference to billiard or tennis balls, though it is sometimes used in other contexts.
flourish of trumpets An unnecessarily flamboyant introduction; a pretentious display. This expression is derived from the musical fanfare associated with the arrival of royalty or other distinguished, high-ranking officials. The expression is used figuratively to describe an inappropriate show of pomposity.
fuss and feathers Pretentious, ostentatious display; exaggerated concern and preoccupation with one’s appearance. Fuss and feathers is reputed to have been the nickname given to U.S. General Winfield Scott by those who thought him finicky, vain, and self-important. According to the OED, this expression appeared in print by 1866, the year of Scott’s death.
grandstand Done to impress onlookers; done merely for effect or attention, used especially of an athletic feat.
It’s little things of this sort which makes the ‘grandstand player.’ They make impossible catches, and when they get the ball they roll all over the field. (M. J. Kelly, Play Ball, 1888)
This common expression is sometimes extended to grandstand play, an athletic maneuver done to draw applause from the spectators, and grandstand finish, a thrilling, neck-and-neck finale to a sporting event.
ham A performer who overacts and exaggerates to show off on stage; an inexperienced, inferior actor; frequently extended to any person who enjoys being the focus of others’ attention and behaves in such a way as to attract it; an exhibitionist or show-off. There are several different but related theories as to the origin of this phrase. One of the best known states that, for economic reasons, poorly paid performers used cheap ham fat instead of the more costly cold cream to remove their makeup, thus giving rise to the term ham. Similarly, the OED theorizes that ham is short for hamfatter ‘an ineffective, low-grade actor or performer.’ A related synonymous term is hamfat man, also the title of a popular minstrel song. All of these terms are U.S. slang and date from the 1880s.
hot-dog To show off, especially by performing flashy, difficult, intricate maneuvers in sports; to grandstand, to play to the crowd; also to hot-dog it. The verb to hot-dog is a back formation from the surfing slang terms hot-dogging ‘riding a hot dog surfboard’ and hot-dogger ‘a surfer who rides a hot dog board.’ A hot-dog surfboard is relatively small and probably got its name from its cigarlike shape, similar to that of a hot dog. Although the verb to hot-dog dates only from the 1960s, the noun hot dog ‘hot shot, show-off dates from the early part of this century. This figurative sense of the noun probably derived from the exclamation hot dog! ‘great, terrific,’ used originally in reference to the food.
Looking good on a little wave is hard. If you can hot dog on two foot waves you are “king.” (Pix [Australia], September, 1963)
play to the gallery To overact or overplay to get arise out of the less refined and educated members of a group; to appeal to the vulgar tastes of the common man; to seek recognition by showy, overdramatized antics. This expression dates from the 17th century when the gallery referred to the less expensive seats in the theater where the “gallery gods” (STATUS) congregated to watch a play.
His dispatches were, indeed, too long and too swelling in phrase; for herein he was always “playing to the galleries.” (Standard, October 23, 1872)
Today gallery refers to any uncultured group of undiscerning judgment. An analogous expression deriving from baseball is play to the grandstand.
posh Sumptuously opulent; luxurious. Although the origin of this term is in dispute, many people still adhere to the expression’s purported acronymous derivation from ‘port out, starboard home,’ a reference to the shady, more comfortable north side of a ship traveling between England and India. The phrase, originally a British saying, is now commonplace on both sides of the Atlantic.
I’d like to have … a very cozy car, small but frightfully posh. (John B. Priestley, The Good Companions, 1929)
shoot one’s cuffs To show off; to flaunt or strut one’s stuff; to grandstand; to put on the dog. In the Middle Ages, affectedly ostentatious noblemen often wore shirts with large, flamboyant cuffs which protruded from the sleeves of their equally ornate coats. Since the display of this type of cuff was clearly intended to impress, these quasi-aristocrats were derisively said to be “shooting their cuffs.” With the decline in the popularity of such garish forms of dress, the expression became figurative and still enjoys occasional contemporary use. A variation is shoot one’s linen.