Etymology
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big shot (n.)
"important person," 1929, American English, from Prohibition-era gangster slang; earlier in the same sense was great shot (1861). Ultimately a reference to large type of gunshot; see shot (n.).
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grand prix 
1863, French, literally "great prize," originally in English in reference to the Grand Prix de Paris, international horse race for three-year-olds, run every June at Longchamps beginning in 1863.
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long shot (n.)
also long-shot, in the figurative sense of "something unlikely," 1867, from long (adj.) + shot (n.). The notion is of a shot at a target from a great distance, thus difficult to make. Cinematic sense is from 1922. As an adjective by 1975.
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Magna Carta 

also Magna Charta, 1560s, Medieval Latin, literally "great charter" (of English personal and political liberty). The thing was obtained from King John, June 15, 1215; the name is attested in Anglo-Latin by 1218. See magnate, card (n.).

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white elephant (n.)
"burdensome charge, inconvenient thing that one does not know how to get rid of," 1851, supposedly from the practice of the King of Siam of presenting one of the sacred albino elephants to a courtier who had fallen from favor; the gift was a great honor, but the proper upkeep of one was ruinously expensive.
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Gordian knot (n.)
1560s, tied by Gordius (Greek Gordios), first king of Phrygia in Asia Minor and father of Midas, who predicted the one to loosen it would rule Asia. Instead, Alexander the Great cut the Gordian knot with his sword; hence the extended sense (1570s in English) "solve a difficult problem in a quick, dramatic way."
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bee's knees (n.)
1923, a survivor of a fad around this year for slang terms denoting "excellence" and based on animal anatomy. Also existed in the more ribald form bee's nuts. Other versions that lasted through the century are cat's whiskers (1923), cat's pajamas, cat's meow. More obscure examples are canary's tusks, cat's nuts and flea's eyebrows. The fad still had a heartbeat in Britain at the end of the century, as attested by the appearance of dog's bollocks in 1989. Bee's knee was used as far back as 1797 for "something insignificant."
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guinea pig (n.)
rodent native to South America, 1660s. It does not come from Guinea and has nothing to do with the pig. Perhaps so called either because it was brought back to Britain aboard Guinea-men, ships that plied the triangle trade between England, Guinea, and South America [Barnhart, Klein], or from its resemblance to the young of the Guinea-hog "river pig" [OED], or from confusion of Guinea with the South American region of Guyana (but OED is against this). Pig probably for its grunting noises. In the extended sense of "one subjected to an experiment" it is first recorded 1920, because they were commonly used in medical experiments (by 1865).
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high horse (n.)
originally (late 14c.) "fine, tall horse; war horse, charger" (high steed is from c. 1300), also, like high hall, used in the sense "status symbol;" figurative sense of "airs, easily wounded dignity" in mount (one's) high horse "affect airs of superiority" is from 1782 (Addison has to ride the great horse in the same sense, 1716). Compare French monter sur ses grands chevaux. "The simile is common to most languages" [Farmer].
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violon d'Ingres (n.)

"an occasional pastime, an activity other than that for which one is well-known, or at which one excells," 1963, from French, literally "Ingres' violin," from the story that the great painter preferred to play his violin (badly) for visitors instead of showing them his pictures.

Une légende, assez suspecte, prétend que le peintre Ingres état plus fier de son jeu sur le violon, jeu qui était fort ordinaire, que de sa peinture, qui l'avait rendu illustre. [Larousse du XXe Siecle, 1931]
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