Tag Archives: Hebrew
walk of life

walk of life

  The whole Psalter translated into English metre (1567?) photograph: Bodleian Library & Radcliffe Camera       The expression walk of life denotes a person’s occupation or position within society. It seems to have appeared in the early 18th century. In A Dialogue in the Elizium Fields between Lælius and Timon, of Friendship (published in […]

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cabal

cabal

  Charles II (circa 1653) by Philippe de Champaigne       MEANINGS a secret or exclusive set of people a small group of intriguers, especially one formed for political purposes a secret plot, especially a political one     ORIGIN   The English word Kabbala, also spelt Kabbala, Cabbala, Cabala, or Qabalah, which dates […]

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placebo

placebo

  William Cullen (1710-90)     The word is from classical Latin placebo, meaning I shall be pleasing (or acceptable), from the verb placere, to please. In post-classical Latin, placebo, the first word of the first antiphon of vespers in the Office for the Dead, was used as a name for that service. In the Vulgate, […]

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sesame

sesame

  Sesamum indicum in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887), published by Franz Eugen Köhler     Sesame is a tall annual herbaceous plant of tropical and subtropical areas of the Old World, cultivated for its oil-rich seeds. Its scientific name is Sesamum indicum (family Pedaliaceae). The word sesame is from Latin sesamum, also sisamum, from Greek σήσαμον […]

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by the skin of one’s teeth

by the skin of one’s teeth

  Miles Coverdale (1488-1568)     The phrase by the skin of one’s teeth means by a very narrow margin; only just. This is a reference to the Book of Job, 19:20, in the Old Testament. In the New International Version, the verse is: I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only […]

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the land of Nod

the land of Nod

  Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon – Cain flying before Jehovah’s Curse – circa 1880     In the Book of Genesis, the land of Nod, located on the east of Eden, is the place where God exiled Cain after the murder of his brother Abel. In the King James Version (1611), Genesis, 4:16, is: And Cain […]

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butter

    The word butter is from Old English butere, of West Germanic origin, and related to Dutch boter and German Butter. These words are based on Latin butyrum, which is also the origin of French beurre, itself the origin of Italian burro.   The Latin word is from Greek boutyron, which has been interpreted, […]

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dunce

dunce

  A female student in a dunce’s cap and a man on the steps of the Tome Scientific Building around 1890 Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania Photographer: Charles Francis Himes       A dunce is a person who is slow at learning; a stupid person.   Dating back to the early 16th century, the word […]

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on the side of the angels

on the side of the angels

  Benjamin Disraeli, photographed by Cornelius Jabez Hughes – 1878         The phrase on the side of the angels means on the side of what is right.   It was coined by Benjamin Disraeli in an 1864 speech at Oxford University.   Intense controversy was then in progress over the implications of […]

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hocus-pocus

hocus-pocus

  The decapitation in ‘Hocus Pocus Junior’   The term hocus-pocus seems to have appeared in English in the early 17th century, as the assumed name of a particular conjuror, derived from the sham Latin formula employed by him. A later writer, Thomas Ady, described his act: I will speak of one man … that […]

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