Tag Archives: animals

pismirism

    MEANING   hoarding of money; miserliness     ORIGIN   This rare noun is first recorded in the column Table Talk of The Daily News (London) of Saturday 22nd December 1906: Our Post Office spoils us. It takes a great deal of trouble for the public that it need not take, and that other Post […]

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mare’s nest

    MEANINGS   – a discovery imagined to be important but proving worthless – a disordered situation     ORIGIN   This expression is first recorded in Galateo of Maister Iohn Della Casa, Archebishop of Beneuenta. Or rather, A treatise of the maners and behauiours, it behoueth a man to vse and eschewe, in his familiar […]

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bully

    MEANING   a person who hurts, persecutes or intimidates weaker people     ORIGIN   One noun bully was a term of endearment and familiarity originally applied to either sex. It is first recorded in A comedy concernynge thre lawes, of nature Moses, & Christ, corrupted by the sodomytes. Pharysees and Papystes (1548?), […]

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pigeon’s milk

pigeon’s milk

    The term pigeon’s milk, also pigeon milk, denotes an imaginary substance which, as a joke, a child or gullible person may be sent to buy. The English antiquary and topographer John Brand (1744-1806) recorded it in the appendix to Observations on popular antiquities: including the whole of Mr. Bourne’s Antiquitates vulgares, with addenda […]

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Walker

    MEANING   Walker, more fully Hookey (also Hooky) Walker, is an exclamation expressing incredulity. It was first recorded in Lexicon Balatronicum¹. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811): Hookee Walker. An expression signifying that the story is not true, or that the thing will not occur. (¹ balatronicum: from […]

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martinet

    MEANING   a person who maintains strict discipline, especially in a military force     ORIGIN   This noun is from the name of Jean Martinet (died 1672), whose biography is as follows in A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East (2010), edited by Spencer C. […]

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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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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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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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Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.

    MEANING   Don’t risk the failure of a large project by trying to economise on trivial things.     ORIGIN   Ship is a dialectal pronunciation of sheep, and this proverb was originally to lose the sheep (often the hog) for a halfpennyworth of tar, that is to say, for want of spending […]

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