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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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psychopomp

psychopomp

  Charon and Psyche (circa 1883), by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)       MEANING   the spiritual guide of a living person’s soul     ORIGIN   The noun psychopomp, also psychopompos, is from ancient Greek ψυχοπομπός (= psukhopompos), meaning conductor, or guide, of souls. This Greek noun is from ψυχή (= pshukhe), soul, […]

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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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galaxy

galaxy

  the Milky Way – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Steve Jurvetson       The noun galaxy appeared in Middle English in the sense of the Milky Way, the diffuse band of light stretching across the night sky that consists of millions of faint stars, nebulae, etc., within our Galaxy. The first known user of this word […]

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pilgrim

pilgrim

  Canterbury Cathedral     The Latin adjective pereger/-gris, composed of per, through, and ager/agri, a field, a land, literally meant who has gone through lands, hence who is on a journey, away from home. From this adjective was derived the adverb peregri, peregre, meaning abroad, and to, or from, foreign parts. This in turn […]

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on the horns of a dilemma

on the horns of a dilemma

  St Jerome in his study (1480), by Domenico Ghirlandaio         MEANING   faced with a decision involving equally unfavourable alternatives (also read Morton’s fork)     ORIGIN   In logic, the term dilemma denotes a form of argument forcing an opponent to choose either of two equally unfavourable alternatives. The Latin […]

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a stiff upper lip

a stiff upper lip

  first edition cover of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963), by the English author P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) – image: Goldsboro Books     MEANING   a quality of uncomplaining stoicism     ORIGIN   The word lip occurs in phrases referring to certain actions regarded as indicative of particular states of feeling. For example, […]

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‘Noel’

      MEANINGS   – Noel, or Noël: Christmas, especially on Christmas cards and as a refrain in carols – noel, or noël: a Christmas carol     ORIGIN   This noun is from Anglo-Norman and Middle French forms such as Noël, Noel (modern French Noël), variants of forms such as Naël, Nael, first attested […]

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walk of life

walk of life

  The whole Psalter translated into English metre (1567?) photograph: Bodleian Library & Radcliffe Camera       The expression walk of life denotes a person’s occupation or position within society. It seems to have appeared in the early 18th century. In A Dialogue in the Elizium Fields between Lælius and Timon, of Friendship (published in […]

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