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island – aisle

    The noun island is from Old English íegland, ígland, a pleonastic compound of íeg, íg, meaning isle, and land. The literal meaning of íeg is watered place. This word is related to Old English éa, water, river, and a compound frequent in Old English was éaland, literally water-land, river-land. Old English éa is related […]

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‘wasp’

‘wasp’

  image from Le Corset à travers les âges (The Corset through the ages – 1893), written by Ernest Léoty and illustrated by Saint-Elme Gautier     MEANING   a social winged insect which has a narrow waist and a sting and is typically yellow with black stripes     ORIGIN   Of Germanic origin, the noun […]

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elevenses

    Have you ever seen a fat valet? Of course not. Nor has anybody else. There is no such thing as a fat valet. And yet there is scarcely a moment during the day when a valet is not eating. He rises at six-thirty, and at seven is having coffee and buttered toast. At […]

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cockroach

    MEANING   A beetle-like scavenging insect with long antennae and legs. Several tropical kinds have become established worldwide as household pests.     ORIGIN   This noun first appeared in the form cacarootch in The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), by John Smith (1580-1631), soldier and colonial governor. […]

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paramour

    MEANING   a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person     ORIGIN   Derived from Old French par amour, par amur, meaning by, or through, love, the English adverb par amour, later written as one word, appeared around 1250 in Floris and Blancheflour in the phrase to love par amour, […]

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one’s pigeon

  The development of trading contacts between Britain and China led to the emergence in 19th-century China of a trading language consisting of basic English and some Chinese grammatical forms. In this hybrid language, pidgin was derived from, and originally meant, business. (The phonetic development was perhaps via an intermediate form /pidginiss/ (with replacement of […]

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panther

panther

  Bija, a two-year-old female black leopard – Picture: Barry Bland/Barcroft Media       MEANING   a leopard, especially a black one     ORIGIN   Via Latin panthera and Anglo-Norman and Old French forms derived from Latin such as panthere and pantere (Modern French panthère), the English noun panther is from ancient Greek […]

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eggcorn

eggcorn

  photograph: Launceston Parish Wildlife Project       MEANING   An eggcorn is a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another, an element of the original being substituted for one which sounds very similar, as in to tow the line instead of to toe the line.     ORIGIN […]

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companion

companion

  photograph: David Levene for the Guardian       In the sense of a person one chooses to socialise or associate with, this noun dates back to the early 14th century. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old and Middle French forms such as compaignun and compaignon (Modern French compagnon), derived from Late Latin companio/companion-, attested […]

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umpire

umpire

  Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny (1713) image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANINGS   – in some sports: an official to whose decision all doubtful points are referred, and who sees that the rules are not broken – a person who arbitrates between contesting parties     ORIGIN   The Old and Middle […]

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