Tag Archives: Jonathan Swift
leap year

leap year

  The month of February in Poor Robin Almanack for 1796 (Sundays, Christian festivals and saints’ days are marked in red.)       MEANING   a year, occurring once every four years, which has 366 days including 29th February as an intercalary day     ORIGIN   The name leap year refers to the […]

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‘mob’

‘mob’

  Roger North, after Sir Peter Lely (1680) – image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   a riotous or disorderly crowd of people     ORIGIN   In the late 16th century, English borrowed from classical Latin the expression mobile vulgus, meaning the fickle crowd, the changeable common people. Around 1599, the English […]

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on the qui vive

on the qui vive

  Chaucer reciting – early 15th-century manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)       MEANING   on the alert, attentive     ORIGIN   The French phrase qui vive ? literally means (long) live who?. It is a sentry’s challenge, intended to discover to which party the person challenged belongs, with […]

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Cheddar cheese

Cheddar cheese

  Cheddar is a village near the Mendip Hills in Somerset.     According to Andrew Dalby in Cheese: A Global History (2009): English cheeses were already admired in Europe in the fifteenth century, but not under local names. These become prominent about a hundred years later. Banbury and Suffolk 1562, Shropshire and Cheshire about […]

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the writing on the wall

the writing on the wall

  Belshazzar’s Feast (1635), by Rembrandt (1606-69)     “He says that Civilization is in the melting-pot and that all thinking men can read the writing on the wall.” “What wall?” “Old Testament, ass. Belshazzar’s feast.” “Oh, that, yes. I’ve often wondered how that gag was worked. With mirrors, I expect.” P. G. Wodehouse – […]

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fleshpots

fleshpots

  Jonathan Swift by or after Charles Jervas (1709-10) image: National Portrait Gallery         MEANING   places providing luxurious or hedonistic living     ORIGIN   Literally, a fleshpot is a pot in which flesh, i.e. meat, is boiled to eat. The source is biblical. In the Book of Exodus, 16:3, when […]

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Grub Street

Grub Street

  Grub Street – John Rocque’s 1746 map of London     MEANING   The noun Grub Street denotes the world or class of literary hacks. As an adjective, also spelt Grubstreet, it means having the nature of literary hack-work.     ORIGIN   In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson gave […]

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yahoo

yahoo

  The servants drive a herd of Yahoos into the field laden with hay by Louis Rhead (1857-1926)     MEANING   A yahoo is a rude, noisy, or violent person.     ORIGIN   The name was invented by the Anglo-Irish writer and cleric Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in Gulliver’s Travels (1726) for an imaginary […]

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porter, stout & cooper

porter, stout & cooper

      Monsieur César de Saussure         Porter (short for porter’s ale or porter’s beer) is a kind of beer, of a dark brown colour and bitter taste, brewed from malt partly charred or browned by drying at a high temperature.   It is worth noting that, originally, porter was a […]

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ketchup

ketchup

              Originally, ketchup was a sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc., used as a condiment with meat or fish.   The word ketchup appears to be from Chinese (Amoy dialect) kōetsiap, brine of pickled fish or shellfish, from kōe, seafood, and tsiap, sauce.   It […]

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