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costermonger

    MEANING   a person who sells goods, especially fruit and vegetables, from a barrow     ORIGIN   A costermonger was originally an apple-seller, a fruiterer. The word is composed of costard, meaning a kind of apple of large size, and monger, denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity. The noun […]

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to send to Coventry

    MEANING   to ostracise or ignore     ORIGIN   Coventry is a city in the west Midlands of England, historically in Warwickshire. In Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1870 edition), Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-97) gave the following origin of the phrase: This is a military term, according to Messrs. Chambers (“Cyclopædia”): The […]

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blues

blues

     title page of I Got the Blues (1908), by Antonio Maggio         MEANING   The blues is a melancholic music of black American folk origin, usually employing a basic 12-bar chorus, the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords, frequent minor intervals, and blue notes. It originated in the southern United States […]

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omelette

    MEANING   a dish of beaten eggs cooked in a frying pan and served plain or with a savoury or sweet topping or filling     ORIGIN   It is an early-17th-century borrowing from French omelette, which is attested in the mid-16th century and is an alteration of amelette. The change in the initial […]

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island – aisle

    The noun island is from Old English íegland, ígland, a pleonastic compound of íeg, íg, meaning isle, and land. The literal meaning of íeg is watered place. This word is related to Old English éa, water, river, and a compound frequent in Old English was éaland, literally water-land, river-land. Old English éa is related […]

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‘ado’

    MEANINGS   – ado: a state of agitation or fuss – without further, or more, ado: without further fuss or delay – much ado about nothing: a great deal of fuss or trouble over nothing of any significance     ORIGIN   The noun ado is from northern Middle English at do, of Scandinavian […]

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this mortal coil

    MEANING   the troubles and activities of this mortal life     ORIGIN   In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined the noun coil: Tumult; turmoil; bustle; stir; hurry; confusion. This obsolete noun is probably from Old French acueil (Modern French accueil), meaning reception, encounter. […]

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to lick someone/something into shape

    MEANING   to act forcefully to bring someone or something into a fitter, more efficient, or better-organised state     ORIGIN   It was believed that bear cubs were born formless and had to be licked into shape by their mother. In his encyclopaedia of the natural and human worlds, Naturalis Historia (The […]

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porridge

    MEANING   a dish consisting of oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk     ORIGIN   The noun porridge is an alteration of pottage and had originally the same meaning: a thick soup made by stewing vegetables, herbs or meat, often thickened with barley, pulses, etc. The change […]

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maudlin

maudlin

   Mary Magdalene kneeling within a Stabat Mater scene Kreuzigung (Crucifixion – 1868), by Gabriel Wüger (1829-92)       MEANING   foolishly tearful or sentimental     ORIGIN   In the Christian Church, the Magdalene designates Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus, who cured her of evil spirits. She witnessed the Crucifixion and Jesus […]

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