Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Often used to mean of pre-eminent importance.

first catch your hare proverbial saying, early 19th century, referring to the first essential step that must be taken before a process can begin; often attributed to the English cook Hannah Glasse (fl. 1747), but her directions for making hare soup are, ‘Take your hare when it is cased’ (cased here meaning ‘skinned’). An early 14th-century Latin source has the related, ‘it is commonly said that one must first catch the deer, and afterwards, when he has been caught, skin him.’ (Compare catching's before hanging.)

first come, first served proverbial saying, late 14th century; late 13th-century French has the related, ‘he who comes first to the mill may grind first.’

First Consul the title held by Napoleon Bonaparte (see Napoleon) from 1799 to 1804, when he became Emperor of France.

the first duty of a soldier is obedience proverbial saying, mid 19th century.

First Fleet comprising the eleven British ships under the command of Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), sailor and first governor of New South Wales, which arrived in Australia in January 1788.

first-foot the first person to cross a threshold in the New Year, in accordance with a Scottish custom; it is traditionally thought lucky for the first-foot to be a dark-haired man.

First Four Ships the first European settlers' ships that arrived in New Zealand in 1840.

first fruits the first agricultural produce of a season, especially when given as an offering to God; originally with biblical allusion as to Numbers 18:12.

first impressions are the most lasting the impression made at a first encounter will not easily be modified by later contact. Proverbial saying, early 18th century.

First Lady the wife of the President of the US; the term is recorded from the mid 19th century, and has gradually come into official use.

first past the post winning a race (especially a horse-race) by being the first to reach the finishing line; a first-past-the-post electoral system is one, as in Britain, in which a candidate or party wins an election by achievement of a simple majority.

First State an informal name for Delaware.

first things first often uttered as a remonstrance; proverbial saying, late 19th century.

first thoughts are best advice to trust an instinctive reaction; often used as a warning against indecision. The saying is recorded from the early 20th century.

First World the industrialized capitalist countries of western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

First World War a war (1914–18) in which the Central Powers (Germany and Austria–Hungary, joined later by Turkey and Bulgaria) were defeated by an alliance of Britain and its dominions, France, Russia, and others, joined later by Italy and the US.

it is the first step that is difficult proverbial saying, late 16th century. The saying is found in French as ‘ce n'est que le premier pas qui coûte [it is only the first step that costs]’, and is recorded as the comment of Madame Du Deffand (1697–1780), on the legend that St Denis, carrying his head in his hands, walked for two leagues.


Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.