There are many expressions in English which reflect our need to classify and put a value on items. Here are a few:
This is most often heard in the phrase ‘a diamond of the first water’. The expression means the best quality. The best diamonds are nearly as clear as water, and this is the origin of the expression.
This expression means a secondary role, as in ‘She played second fiddle to her best friend’. The lead violinist sounds the notes that guide the rest of the orchestra, so this position is more important than the second violin or second fiddle.
When you’re given the third degree, you get a verbal grilling. No one’s quite sure where the expression originates, but a popular tale has it that the third degree of masonry was difficult to attain and candidates had to answer a lot of questions in order to attain it.
The fourth estate is the press, as distinct from the other three estates in the UK. The other three are the spiritual lords, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
This expression is reportedly of Spanish origin. During the Spanish Civil War, a general who was leading four columns of his army to fight, claimed to have a fifth one in Madrid. The expression refers to a group of people who support their country’s enemies.
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