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(with) tongue in cheek

  The phrase (with) tongue in cheek means in an ironic, or insincere, way. The Scottish author Tobias Smollett (1721-71) used to thrust one’s tongue in one’s cheek to denote a sign of contempt in his picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748); the hero has just captured and handed over a highwayman and returns to the coach in which he is travelling: When I had […]

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to cut both ways

    The phrase to cut both ways means: – of a point or statement: to serve both sides of an argument, – of an action or process: to have both good and bad effects. It refers to a sword which has two cutting edges, as is clear from its first known use, in Priest-Craft, […]

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Kindertransport

Kindertransport

  Let them smile and play again Save 1,000 Refugee Children on ‘MOTHERS’ DAY’ MAY 20TH IN SHEFFIELD ‘Mothers’ Day’ is the day appointed for a great and special effort in support of the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees—to rescue another 500 Christian and 500 Jewish children. Please do your very best to make your local […]

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to sweat like a pig

to sweat like a pig

  photograph: Fairhope Farm     The phrase to sweat like a pig means to sweat profusely. The earliest instance that I have found is from The Morning Post (London) of 10th November 1824; during a boxing match “between Ned Turner and Peace Inglis for one hundred pounds a-side”, one Shelton, who waited on Turner, […]

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heart of oak

heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is […]

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to lark about

to lark about

  skylark – photograph: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds     The phrasal verb lark about (or around) means to enjoy oneself by behaving in a playful and mischievous way. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary – 1st edition, 1902) indicates the following about the verb lark: The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it […]

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earthling

earthling

  cover of Thrilling Wonder Stories (August 1951)     The noun earthling is composed of earth and the suffix -ling, meaning, in this case, a person belonging to. In science fiction, it is used by aliens to refer to an inhabitant of the earth. But this noun, which dates back to the late 16th […]

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incunabula

incunabula

  Incunabula Typographiæ (1688), by the Dutch bibliographer Cornelius van Beughem (1639-after 1717)     The word incunabula, singular incunabulum, designates the books printed during the earliest period of typography, that is to say, from the invention of the art of typographic printing in Europe in the 1450s to the end of the 15th century. […]

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pandemonium

pandemonium

  Charles Macklin (circa 1792), by John Opie image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   a place or state of utter confusion and uproar     ORIGIN   In Paradise Lost (1667), the English poet John Milton (1608-74) invented the word Pandæmonium, with a capital P, as the name for the capital of Hell, containing the […]

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beyond the pale

beyond the pale

    MEANING   outside the limits of social convention     ORIGIN   The primary meanings of the noun pale are a wooden stake or post used with others to form a fence and a wooden fence made of stakes driven into the ground. This word appeared in the late 14th century and is […]

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