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witticism

    MEANING   a witty remark     ORIGIN   John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet, playwright and critic, coined witticism from the adjective witty on the pattern of criticism in The Authors Apology for Heroique Poetry; and Poetique Licence, an essay introducing The State of Innocence and Fall of Man (1677), an opera written […]

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péniche

péniche

  ‘péniches’ in Paris – photograph: JLPC/Wikimedia Commons       Nowadays, the French feminine noun péniche denotes a barge. It was borrowed in the early 19th century from English pinnace with the following English meanings: – a small rowed boat forming part of the equipment of a warship or other large vessel; – a small light vessel […]

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‘wasp’

‘wasp’

  image from Le Corset à travers les âges (The Corset through the ages – 1893), written by Ernest Léoty and illustrated by Saint-Elme Gautier     MEANING   a social winged insect which has a narrow waist and a sting and is typically yellow with black stripes     ORIGIN   Of Germanic origin, the noun […]

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‘Wasp’

    MEANING   (often used with mild derision): a person who belongs to, or is thought of, as being part of a white, upper middle-class, northern European, Protestant group that dominates economic, political and cultural activity in the USA       ORIGIN   This acronym from white Anglo-Saxon Protestant is first recorded in […]

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R.S.V.P.

R.S.V.P.

    R.S.V.P. is an initialism from French répondez s’il vous plaît (literally respond if you please), meaning please reply, used at the end of invitations to request a response. It first appeared in English in the early 19th century. For example, in Domestic Duties; or, Instructions to young married ladies, on the management of […]

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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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bedlam

bedlam

    MEANING   a scene of uproar and confusion     ORIGIN   Bedlam, as well as Betleem, Bedleem, Bethlem, etc., were early forms of Bethlehem. For example, in the Early Version (around 1382) of the Wycliffe Bible, the gospel of Luke, 2:4, is: Sothly* and Josep stiȝede vp fro Galilee, of the cite […]

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