Thank you so much for this explanation! I had been puzzling over this term for several days now, having come across it in two different books I am currently reading. One used it figuratively to describe a character who had lost all of his money while investing (Brideshead Revisited) and one used it literally when a character fell down some stairs (Slammerkin). Needless to say, I was very puzzled about its meaning. How enlightening!