Indian summer – l’été sauvage

Indian summer – l’été sauvage

  St. John de Crèvecœur, after the portrait by Vallière, 1786         MEANING   a period of unusually calm dry warm weather, often accompanied by a hazy ...

P’s and Q’s

P’s and Q’s

  P’s and Q’s – A Book on the Art of Letter Arrangement (1923), by Sallie B. Tannahill – photograph: Thorn Books       MEANINGS   – to be ...

La langue française est-elle misogyne ?

La langue française est-elle misogyne ?

  You can read the article in English here Vous pouvez lire l’article en anglais ici     Considérons les termes français suivants, avec leurs équivalents anglais :  fils                   fille   ...

Highlights

a pretty kettle of fish

a pretty kettle of fish

  photograph: The Grocer     MEANING   The phrase a pretty ...
point-blank – de but en blanc

point-blank – de but en blanc

  Gunner’s quadrant Quadrant consisting of two arms of unequal length joined ...
‘Temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer

‘Temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer

  Notre Dame du Port – Clermont Ferrand (France)     To ...

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‘Ajax’

‘Ajax’

  This word means a toilet, especially an outdoor one. The following is from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave: Retraict [modern French retrait]: masculine. An Aiax, Priuie, house of Office [= outdoor toilet]. It is a humorous respelling of a jakes, of same meaning, after Ajax, the name of a hero in Greek mythology. […]

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Hobson’s choice

Hobson’s choice

  Thomas Hobson (1629), by an unknown artist – image: National Portrait Gallery     MEANING   the option of taking the one thing offered or nothing    ORIGIN   The earliest use of the phrase (in its present form, if the original spelling was preserved) that I could find dates back to 1649. That year, […]

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Harriet Lane – Fanny Adams

Harriet Lane – Fanny Adams

  Lamentation of Henry Wainwright, For the Murder and Mutilation of Harriet Lane (1875)     MEANING   The Northern Daily Mail and South Durham Herald (Northumberland) of 14th July 1894 published an article titled Naval slang: How Jack re-christens things, which contains the following: The preserved meat served out to him is known as […]

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‘OMG’

    MEANING   The exclamation OMG expresses astonishment, excitement, embarrassment, etc.     ORIGIN   It is from the initial letters of oh my God (the final element may sometimes represent gosh or goodness). This initialism is older than the Internet or even the Usenet (an early computer network established in 1980), since it is first found […]

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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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strawberry preacher

    In A notable Sermō of yᵉ reuerende father Maister Hughe Latemer, whiche he preached in yᵉ Shrouds at paules churche in Londō, on the .xviii. daye of January. 1548., Hugh Latimer (circa 1485-1555), English Protestant prelate and martyr, thus criticised the members of the clergy who did not reside in the places required […]

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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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‘loot’

‘loot’

  Ludewig appraises tray which newlyweds want to swap for cooker from Life, 13th September 1954       MEANINGS   – noun: goods stolen during pillaging, as in wartime, during riots, etc. – goods, money, etc., obtained illegally – verb: to pillage (a city, settlement, etc.) during war or riots – to steal (money or […]

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to smell a rat

    MEANING   to detect something suspicious     ORIGIN   The first known use of this phrase is in The Image of Ipocrysy, an anonymous poem written around 1540, denouncing “the cruell clergy”: (published in 1843) Suche be owr [= our] primates, Our bisshopps and prelates, Our parsons and curates, With other like […]

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the slough of despond

the slough of despond

  The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to That which is to come Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream Wherein is Discovered, The Manner of his setting out, His Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey (1679 edition) – image: The British Library       MEANING   a state of extreme […]

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