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long (or strong) arm

    MEANING   far-reaching power or influence     ORIGIN   The earlier expression long hands was originally after classical Latin an nescis longas regibus esse manus?, used by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – circa 17 AD) in the epistolary poems Epistulæ Heroidum, (Letters of Heroines). While her husband, King Menelaus, is away, Helen […]

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costermonger

    MEANING   a person who sells goods, especially fruit and vegetables, from a barrow     ORIGIN   A costermonger was originally an apple-seller, a fruiterer. The word is composed of costard, meaning a kind of apple of large size, and monger, denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity. The noun […]

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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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porridge

    MEANING   a dish consisting of oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk     ORIGIN   The noun porridge is an alteration of pottage and had originally the same meaning: a thick soup made by stewing vegetables, herbs or meat, often thickened with barley, pulses, etc. The change […]

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‘Wasp’

    MEANING   (often used with mild derision): a person who belongs to, or is thought of, as being part of a white, upper middle-class, northern European, Protestant group that dominates economic, political and cultural activity in the USA       ORIGIN   This acronym from white Anglo-Saxon Protestant is first recorded in […]

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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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willy-nilly

    MEANINGS   whether desired or not and haphazardly     ORIGIN   This adverb is a contraction of the idiomatic phrase based on end-rhyme will I, nill I (or will he, nill he, etc.), meaning be I willing, be I unwilling (or be he willing, be he unwilling, etc.). The obsolete verb to […]

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auto-da-fé

auto-da-fé

  Auto de fe (1853), by Eugenio Lucas Velázquez (1817-70)       This noun is from the obsolete Portuguese form auto da fé (now auto de fé), literally meaning act of faith, composed, after Spanish auto de fe, of the noun auto, meaning public ceremony, judicial decree, writ, the preposition da, of the, and the […]

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urbi et orbi

urbi et orbi

  Pope Francis delivering the traditional Urbi et Orbi Easter message on 1st April 2013 photograph: The Times     Qualifying a solemn papal blessing, proclamation, etc., the post-classical Latin adverb urbi et orbi means to the city (of Rome) and to the world. It is from classical Latin urbī, dative of urbs, city, and […]

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Shrove Tuesday – le Mardi gras

Shrove Tuesday – le Mardi gras

  le carnaval de la mi-carême, Nantes (France) – photograph: MaxPPP/France-Soir         Shrovetide is the period comprising Quinquagesima Sunday, or Shrove Sunday, and the two following days, Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday. It immediately precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. (Quinquagesima is short for ecclesiastical Latin quinquagesima dies, fiftieth day, because, […]

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