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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Witham

Witham

  Witham (Essex) – town sign photograph: East Anglian Daily Times     Witham is the name of several villages in Lincolnshire and Essex. With a pun on wit, the expression little, or small, Witham was used proverbially for a place of which the inhabitants were remarkable for stupidity. For example, the following, from A […]

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make hay

make hay

  The phrase make hay means make good use of an opportunity while it lasts. This is a shortening of make hay while the sun shines, recorded in A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue compacte in a matter concernyng two maner of mariages (1546), by the English playwright and epigrammatist John Heywood (1497?-1580?): […]

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happy as a clam

happy as a clam

  cherrystone or hardshell clam – photograph: The Fish Society     The phrase (as) happy as a clam means well pleased, quite contented. In Allen’s Dictionary of English Phrases (2008), Robert Allen explains: This American simile is more understandable in its full form, happy as a clam in high water (or at high tide). In these conditions, clams are able to feed and are […]

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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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human bean

human bean

  The term human bean is a humorous alteration or mispronunciation of human being, frequently used as part of an extended pun relating to beans. It is first recorded in Punch, or The London Charivari (1842): This little wretch is exciting the most intense interest, (Faugh!) and we have bribed the authorities in all directions […]

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to nail (to the counter)

to nail (to the counter)

  Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould (1844-1925), cartoonist and journalist – image: National Portrait Gallery     The verb nail is used to mean to expose or reveal the falsehood of an allegation, assertion, etc., especially to prevent further dissemination. This use is first recorded in An Oration delivered at the Celebration in Philadelphia of the 106th Anniversary of the Birthday […]

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myrmidon

myrmidon

  statue of Ovid in Constanţa (ancient Tomis, the city where he was exiled), Romania – 1887, by the Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Kurt Wichmann     The noun myrmidon denotes a follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly. This word first appeared in the […]

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to miss the bus

to miss the bus

  The phrase to miss the bus, or the boat, etc., means to be too slow to take advantage of an opportunity. In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explained: This expression is said to originate in an Oxford story of the 1840s about John Henry Newman, fellow of Oriel College, vicar of the University […]

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tell that to the marines

tell that to the marines

  “HUNS KILL WOMEN AND CHILDREN!” “TELL THAT TO THE MARINES!” First-World-War US recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg image: Disappearing Idioms This poster, which attracted a great deal of attention, portrays an angry-looking young man in the act of pulling off his coat as though he were anxious to get into a fight. The headline […]

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rhesus

rhesus

  Le Rhesus (Simia Rhesus) – illustration by Jean-Baptiste Audebert for his treatise, Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (1799) – image: Bibliothèque nationale de France / gallica.bnf.fr     This word is from French rhésus, formerly rhesus, and from its etymon, the scientific Latin (Simia) Rhesus. In Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis (Natural History of the Monkeys and Lemurs – 1799), the […]

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