(Latin, caput; Saxon, hedfod; Scotch, hafet; contracted into head.)
Better be the head of an ass than the tail of a horse. Better be foremost amongst commoners than the lowest of the aristocracy; better be the head of the yeomanry than the tail of the gentry. The Italians say, “E meglio esser testa di luccio che coda di sturione.”
He has a head on his shoulders. He is up to snuff (q.v.); he is a clever fellow, with brains in his head. He has quite lost his head. He is in a quandary or quite confused.
I can make neither head nor tail of it. I cannot understand it at all. A gambling phrase. Men with héads beneath the shoulders. (See Caora.)
Men without heads. (See Blemmyes.)
Off one's head. Deranged; delirious; extremely excited. Here “head” means intelligence, understanding, etc. His intelligence or understanding has gone away.
To bundle one out head and heels. “Sans cérémonie, ” altogether. The allusion is to a custom at one time far too frequent in cottages, for a whole family to sleep together in one bed head to heels or pednamene, as it was termed in Cornwall; to bundle the whole lot out of bed was to turn them out head and heels.
To head off. To intercept.
To hit the nail on the head. You have guessed aright; you have done the right thing. The allusion is obvious. The French say, “Vous avez frappé au but ” (You have hit the mark); the Italians have the phrase, “Havete dato in brocca ” (You have hit the pitcher), alluding to a game where a pitcher stood in the place of Aunt Sally (q.v.). The Latin, “Rem acu tetigisti ” (You have touched the thing with a needle), refers to the custom of probing sores.
To keep one's head above water. To avoid bankruptcy. The allusion is to a person immersed in water; so long as his head is above water his life remains, but bad swimmers find it hard to keep their heads above water.
To lose one's head. To be confused and middle-minded. To make head. To get on.
Head Shaved (Get your). You are a dotard. Go and get your head shaved like other lunatics. (See Bath.)
Thou thinkst that monarchs never can act ill, Gey thy head shaved, poor fool, or think so still.
PeterPindar: Ode Upon Ode.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894