Tag Archives: law

(with) tongue in cheek

  The phrase (with) tongue in cheek means in an ironic, or insincere, way. The Scottish author Tobias Smollett (1721-71) used to thrust one’s tongue in one’s cheek to denote a sign of contempt in his picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748); the hero has just captured and handed over a highwayman and returns to the coach in which he is travelling: When I had […]

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heart of oak

heart of oak

  A New Song, sung by Mr. Champness in Harlequin’s Invasion from The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure – March 1760     The phrase heart of oak denotes a person with a strong, courageous nature, especially a brave and loyal soldier or sailor, and a courageous or valorous spirit. Its literal meaning is […]

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to lark about

to lark about

  skylark – photograph: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds     The phrasal verb lark about (or around) means to enjoy oneself by behaving in a playful and mischievous way. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary – 1st edition, 1902) indicates the following about the verb lark: The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it […]

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incunabula

incunabula

  Incunabula Typographiæ (1688), by the Dutch bibliographer Cornelius van Beughem (1639-after 1717)     The word incunabula, singular incunabulum, designates the books printed during the earliest period of typography, that is to say, from the invention of the art of typographic printing in Europe in the 1450s to the end of the 15th century. […]

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to return to one’s muttons

to return to one’s muttons

  The court scene - woodcut from the edition of La Farce de Maistre Pathelin by Pierre Levet, circa 1489       MEANING   to return to the matter in hand     ORIGIN   This phrase is from French revenons à nos moutons (let us return to our sheep), which is said to have […]

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small beer

small beer

        MEANING   person(s) or matter(s) of little or no importance     ORIGIN   Since the early 14th century, the adjective small has been used to mean of low alcoholic strength. For example, The Forme of Cury¹, a roll of English cookery, compiled around 1390 by the master cooks of Richard […]

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long (or strong) arm

    MEANING   far-reaching power or influence     ORIGIN   The earlier expression long hands was originally after classical Latin an nescis longas regibus esse manus?, used by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – circa 17 AD) in the epistolary poems Epistulæ Heroidum, (Letters of Heroines). While her husband, King Menelaus, is away, Helen […]

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to boycott

    MEANING   to refuse to have dealings with a person, organisation, etc., or to refuse to buy a product, as a protest or means of coercion     ORIGIN   This verb is from the name of Captain Charles C. Boycott (1832-97), Irish land agent for the Earl of Erne, County Mayo, Ireland, […]

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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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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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