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fleshpots

fleshpots

  Jonathan Swift by or after Charles Jervas (1709-10) image: National Portrait Gallery         MEANING   places providing luxurious or hedonistic living     ORIGIN   Literally, a fleshpot is a pot in which flesh, i.e. meat, is boiled to eat. The source is biblical. In the Book of Exodus, 16:3, when […]

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to chop and change

to chop and change

  photograph of William Makepeace Thackeray by Jesse Harrison Whitehurst       MEANING   to change one’s opinions or behaviour repeatedly and abruptly     ORIGIN   In this phrase, to chop originally meant to barter, and to change meant to make an exchange with. In other words, this was an alliterative repetitive expression, […]

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clink

clink

  Winchester House (from a view by Hollar, 1660)         MEANING   prison     ORIGIN   The Clink was the name of a prison in Southwark, London. A Svrvay of London. Conteyning the Originall, Antiquity, Increase, Moderne estate, and description of that City, written in the yeare 1598, by Iohn Stow […]

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to turn a deaf ear

to turn a deaf ear

     MEANING   to refuse to listen or respond to a statement or request     ORIGIN   The phrase to turn a deaf ear is perhaps a variant of the earlier to give, and lend, a deaf ear, themselves related to the expressions to give ear and to lend an ear (or one’s […]

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blockhead

blockhead

  Erasmus – Paraphrases upon the New Testament (1551 edition) photograph: Humber Books       MEANING   a very stupid person     ORIGIN   A blockhead was originally a wooden block shaped like a head, used for making hats or wigs. The noun was used figuratively to denote a person’s head containing no more […]

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Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

  Advertisement in the magazine Life – 17th March 1961 The Bloody María (anything vodka can do, Ronrico Rum can do better) The difference between a Bloody Mary and a Bloody María is the difference between Mary and María. María is Mary set to music. A Bloody María is easy to make. Simply use Ronrico […]

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dog in the manger

dog in the manger

  The Dog in the Manger, from The Fables of Æsop selected, told anew and their history traced (1894), by Joseph Jacobs – illustrated by Richard Heighway       MEANING   A person who prevents others from having or using things even though he or she does not need them     ORIGIN   […]

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red-letter day

red-letter day

  Calendar page for December from an illuminated Book of Hours (circa 1460). Special feasts are marked out in red ink. Photograph: University of Glascow Amongst the notable feasts for December, as shown here, are Saint Nicholas (December 6), the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8) and Saint Nicasius (December 14). To the […]

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blue blood

blue blood

  The Third Estate carrying the Clergy and the Nobility on its back (late 18th-century French print) – Bibliothèque nationale de France A faut esperer q’eu.s jeu la finira bentot (= Il faut espérer que ce jeu-là finira bientôt, You should hope that this game will be over soon)       After the Reconquista, […]

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fig leaf

fig leaf

  portion from Adam and Eve (1538), by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)       MEANING   A thing intended to conceal a difficulty or embarrassment     ORIGIN   It is an allusion to the Book of Genesis, 3:7. The serpent has just convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit: 6 When the […]

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