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alligator

alligator

  Bobby Charles – See You Later, Alligator (1955) photograph: Rebound Records     MEANING   a large semiaquatic reptile similar to a crocodile but with a broader and shorter head, native to the Americas and China     ORIGIN   This noun is from Spanish el lagarto, el meaning the and lagarto lizard, from […]

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promenade concert

promenade concert

  the Proms (2015) – photograph: BBC       A promenade concert is a concert at which some of the audience stand rather than sit.   In French, promenade is attested in 1599 in the sense of a place for promenading, and in 1671 in that of a leisurely walk. With addition of the […]

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grotty

grotty

  Lime Street in the 1890s     MEANING   This informal British adjective is a general term of disapproval meaning unpleasant, dirty, ugly, etc.   ORIGIN   A slang abbreviation of grotesque, grotty seems to have originated in Liverpool, Lancashire. The word is credited to John Burke, who wrote the novelisation of A Hard […]

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rosemary

rosemary

  Rosmarinus officinalis - Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887), published by Franz Eugen Köhler     Rosemary is an evergreen aromatic shrub of the mint family, native to southern Europe. The narrow leaves are used as a culinary herb, in perfumery, and as an emblem of remembrance. (Scientific name: Rosmarinus officinalis, family Labiatae)   The word is apparently a folk-etymological […]

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domino

domino

  The Ridotto in Venice – 1750s by the Venetian painter Pietro Longhi (circa 1701-85)     A domino is a kind of loose cloak, apparently of Venetian origin, chiefly worn at masquerades, with a small mask covering the upper part of the face, by persons not personating a character. The word, first recorded in […]

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to take someone down a peg

to take someone down a peg

    Photograph: Sweet Music Index       The phrase to take or bring (someone) down a peg (or two) means to make someone realise that they are less talented or important than they think they are.   It seems that peg here designates the pin of wood or metal around which is fastened […]

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handicap

handicap

  A contraction of hand in cap, the word handicap dates back to the mid-17th century, and was originally the name of a betting game in which players put forfeit money in a cap or bag and then drew from it.   The game was described by J. S. Coyne in Notes and Queries, dated […]

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