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Miss & Ms

    The word miss, used as a title prefixed to the name of an unmarried woman or girl and as a form of address, was originally short for mistress. It first appeared as mis, perhaps a graphic abbreviation of the form mistris. (Similarly, Mr and Mrs are abbreviations of master and mistress.) The noun […]

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sparrowgrass

    MEANING   asparagus     ORIGIN   The Latin noun asparagus is a borrowing from Greek ἀσπάραγος (= asparagos). The Medieval Latin form was often sparagus, whence English sperage (also sparage, after smallage, wild celery), which was the common name in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Meanwhile, the influence of herbalists and […]

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the straight and narrow

the straight and narrow

      La Porte étroite (Strait is the Gate) – a 1909 novel by André Gide A novel about the failure of love in the face of the narrowness of the moral philosophy of Protestantism. André Gide (1869-1951) was a French novelist, essayist, and critic, regarded as the father of modern French literature. His other […]

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handicap

handicap

  A contraction of hand in cap, the word handicap dates back to the mid-17th century, and was originally the name of a betting game in which players put forfeit money in a cap or bag and then drew from it.   The game was described by J. S. Coyne in Notes and Queries, dated […]

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Le nénufar et l’ognon (ou les avatars de l’orthographe française)

  Le préjugé orthographique ne se justifie ni par la logique, ni par l’histoire… il se fonde sur une tradition relativement récente, formée surtout d’ignorance. Histoire de la langue française, par Ferdinand Brunot (1860-1938)     Les Français considèrent souvent l’orthographe de leur langue comme quasi sacrée – comme si elle était gravée dans le […]

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