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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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Bombay duck

Bombay duck

  Drying Bombay duck – photograph: Madhav Pai       MEANING   a small elongated fish of southern Asian coasts which is dried and used as food     ORIGIN   The first element is an alteration, by association with Bombay (until 1995, the name for Mumbai, in India), of bummalo, which has also […]

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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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one’s pigeon

  The development of trading contacts between Britain and China led to the emergence in 19th-century China of a trading language consisting of basic English and some Chinese grammatical forms. In this hybrid language, pidgin was derived from, and originally meant, business. (The phonetic development was perhaps via an intermediate form /pidginiss/ (with replacement of […]

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soap opera

soap opera

  THE DOLEFUL COMPLICATIONS OF SOAP OPERAS are almost beyond explanation. Above is ‘Woman In White.’ Karen Adams (right) divorced Dr. Kirk Harding (left) because he had gotten her sister-in-law, Janet (on death-bed above), with illegitimate child. from the American magazine Life of 27th April 1942       MEANING   a television or radio drama […]

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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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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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leap year

leap year

  The month of February in Poor Robin Almanack for 1796 (Sundays, Christian festivals and saints’ days are marked in red.)       MEANING   a year, occurring once every four years, which has 366 days including 29th February as an intercalary day     ORIGIN   The name leap year refers to the […]

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bissextile

bissextile

  image: Hub Pages       MEANING   (of a month or year): containing the extra day of a leap year     ORIGIN   The Latin bisextus (dies), also spelt bissextus, composed of bis, twice, and sextus, sixth, was the name given to the intercalary day inserted by the Julian calendar* every fourth […]

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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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