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bugbear

bugbear

  a lamia, from The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) (A lamia was a fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood of children.)       MEANING   a cause of obsessive fear, anxiety or irritation     ORIGIN   […]

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green man

green man

  This character, which is that of a wild or savage man, was very common in the pageants of former times, and seems to have been very popular. from The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, by Joseph Strutt (edited by William Hone – 1838)       PAGEANTS   In Tudor and […]

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to eat someone’s salt

to eat someone’s salt

  Fluellen intimidating Pistol (circa 1850), by Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901)       Salt has strong symbolic connotations. The phrase the salt of the earth, which now denotes a person or group of people regarded as the finest of their kind, comes the gospel of Matthew, 5:13, where Jesus described his disciples and meant […]

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sycophant

sycophant

  amulet representing the ‘fig’ hand (mano in fica) illustration from The Evil Eye (1895) by Frederick Thomas Elworthy       MEANING   A sycophant is a person who acts obsequiously towards someone important in order to gain advantage.     ORIGIN   The noun sycophant is from Latin sycophanta, meaning an informer, slanderer, […]

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gossamer

gossamer

  photograph: Mark A. Chappell     MEANING   A fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders, seen especially in autumn.     ORIGIN   The word gossamer, which appeared in the early 14th century in the form gosesomer, is apparently composed of goose and summer. The reason for the appellation is […]

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pansy

pansy

      The name pansy was originally applied to the heartsease (Viola tricolor, family Violaceae), now wild pansy, which has given rise to hybrids from which most garden pansies were developed (genus Viola, family Violaceae). This name is a borrowing from Middle French pensée, a transferred use of pensée, thought, the flower being considered […]

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orient

orient

  The Latin verb oriri meant, of persons, to rise, bestir oneself, get up, and, of heavenly bodies, to rise, become visible. Hence, as a noun, the present participle oriens/orientis denoted the rising sun and the quarter where the sun rises, the East, the Orient, as opposed to occidens/occidentis, the West, the Occident (the Latin […]

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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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Argus-eyed

Argus-eyed

  Fábula de Mercurio y Argos (1659) by Diego Velázquez     To be Argus-eyed is to be vigilant.   Argus, the Latinised form of Greek Argos, was thus defined in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (1849), edited by William Smith: Argus Surnamed Panoptes. He derived his surname, Panoptes, the all-seeing, […]

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white feather

white feather

  illustration for The White Feather. A Sketch of English Recruiting   Inglorious Upshot That evening as he was walking from the station on his way home, three smartly-dressed girls, approaching, barred the pavement. He stopped. “How young he is, the poor darling!” murmured fondly the central maiden, and, suddenly producing a large white feather, […]

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