Tag Archives: mythology

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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psychopomp

psychopomp

  Charon and Psyche (circa 1883), by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908)       MEANING   the spiritual guide of a living person’s soul     ORIGIN   The noun psychopomp, also psychopompos, is from ancient Greek ψυχοπομπός (= psukhopompos), meaning conductor, or guide, of souls. This Greek noun is from ψυχή (= pshukhe), soul, […]

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bugbear

bugbear

  a lamia, from The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) (A lamia was a fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood of children.)       MEANING   a cause of obsessive fear, anxiety or irritation     ORIGIN   […]

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Sciapodes

Sciapodes

  a sciapod, from the Hereford Mappa Mundi (circa 1300)       The Sciapodes (or Monopods) were a mythical race of people supposed to have lived at the southern edge of the ancient Greek and Roman world, who each had a single leg ending in a foot of immense size with which they shaded […]

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facilis descensus Averno

facilis descensus Averno

  Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus (circa 1798), by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) – image: Tate       MEANING   It is easy to slip into evil or immoral ways.     ORIGIN   Lake Avernus (in Italian Lago Averno) is a crater lake in Campania, southern Italy, near Cumae and Puteoli, […]

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ignis fatuus

ignis fatuus

  Henry Buttes       The Latin ignis fatuus (plural ignes fatui), meaning foolish fire, seems to have first appeared in an English text in the mid-16th century and denotes a phosphorescent light seen hovering or floating at night on marshy ground, thought to result from the combustion of natural gases. The common name […]

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nightmare

nightmare

  Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825) – Der Nachtmahr (1790)       The noun mare, which appeared in early Old English, denoted a spirit believed to produce a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal, hence also a feeling of suffocation experienced during sleep, and an oppressive or terrifying dream. Unrelated to mare in […]

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dog in the manger

dog in the manger

  The Dog in the Manger, from The Fables of Æsop selected, told anew and their history traced (1894), by Joseph Jacobs – illustrated by Richard Heighway       MEANING   A person who prevents others from having or using things even though he or she does not need them     ORIGIN   […]

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sycophant

sycophant

  amulet representing the ‘fig’ hand (mano in fica) illustration from The Evil Eye (1895) by Frederick Thomas Elworthy       MEANING   A sycophant is a person who acts obsequiously towards someone important in order to gain advantage.     ORIGIN   The noun sycophant is from Latin sycophanta, meaning an informer, slanderer, […]

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eagle

eagle

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons       The English eagle is from French aigle. The French noun is from the Latin feminine noun aquila, which is perhaps, in allusion to the bird’s common colour, from the adjective aquilus, feminine aquila, meaning dark-coloured, dun, swarthy. The Latin name denoted the bird and a military ensign surmounted […]

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