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elevenses

    Have you ever seen a fat valet? Of course not. Nor has anybody else. There is no such thing as a fat valet. And yet there is scarcely a moment during the day when a valet is not eating. He rises at six-thirty, and at seven is having coffee and buttered toast. At […]

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between you and me and the gatepost

    MEANING   in strict confidence     ORIGIN   The noun post has long been metaphorical for anything deaf, lifeless or ignorant. For instance, the following was published in The World of Thursday 8th November 1753: The business of this letter is only to vindicate from reproach a poor inanimate being, vulgarly called […]

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apple-john

    An apple-john is a kind of apple, called in French deux-années or deux-ans, because it will keep two years, and is considered to be in perfection when shrivelled and withered. The second element is after the name of St John, because the apple ripens around St John’s Day (24th June). In Huloets dictionarie […]

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odditorium

    MEANING   a shop or venue for the sale or display of oddities or oddments     ORIGIN   This humorous noun is composed of oddit-, as in oddity, and the suffix -orium, after auditorium and perhaps also after emporium, meaning a large retail store selling a wide variety of goods. It was mentioned […]

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cockroach

    MEANING   A beetle-like scavenging insect with long antennae and legs. Several tropical kinds have become established worldwide as household pests.     ORIGIN   This noun first appeared in the form cacarootch in The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), by John Smith (1580-1631), soldier and colonial governor. […]

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sparrowgrass

    MEANING   asparagus     ORIGIN   The Latin noun asparagus is a borrowing from Greek ἀσπάραγος (= asparagos). The Medieval Latin form was often sparagus, whence English sperage (also sparage, after smallage, wild celery), which was the common name in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Meanwhile, the influence of herbalists and […]

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to spike (some)one’s guns

    MEANING   to thwart (some)one’s plans     ORIGIN   In order to render a gun unserviceable, one fills up its touch-hole with a metal spike. For instance, in A true and full relation of the prosecution, arraignment, tryall, and condemnation of Nathaniel Fiennes, late colonell and governor of the city and castle […]

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caterpillar

    MEANING   the larva of a butterfly or moth     ORIGIN   First attested in the mid-15th century, the noun caterpillar is probably from catepeluse and variants, which were the Anglo-Norman forms of the Old French feminine noun chatepelose and variants, meaning literally hairy she-cat. In his textbook Lesclarcissement de la langue […]

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parvanimity

    MEANING   smallness of mind, meanness     ORIGIN   This noun is composed of Latin parv(i)-, combining form of parvus, meaning small, animus, meaning mind, and the suffix -ity, forming abstract nouns. The combining form parv(i)- was found in a few Latin words such as parvicollis, meaning short-necked. In English, it is found for […]

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to be part and parcel of

    MEANING   to be an essential feature or element of     ORIGIN   Derived from Anglo-Norman forms such as parcele and parcell and Old and Middle French parcelle, parcel has as primary meaning small part of a whole. This noun is from an unattested post-classical Latin particella, part, portion, alteration of classical Latin particula, […]

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