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philtrum

philtrum

  photograph: Google+ Communities     The noun philtrum denotes the vertical groove between the base of the nose and the border of the upper lip. The literal and obsolete signification of this word, which appeared in the early 17th century, is love potion, from classical Latin philtrum, of same meaning. In post-classical Latin, philtrum […]

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Kilkenny cats

Kilkenny cats

    Kilkenny cats denotes two cats fabled to have fought until only their tails remained, hence combatants who fight until they annihilate each other, and to fight like Kilkenny cats means to engage in a mutually destructive struggle. (The name Kilkenny denotes both a county in south-eastern Ireland and its chief town.) The earliest mention of Kilkenny cats that I have found […]

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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 wash the milk off one’s liver

to wash the milk off one’s liver

    The Oxford English Dictionary (OED, 3rd edition – 2002) thus defines to wash the milk off one’s liver: to purge oneself of cowardice. Obsolete. To illustrate this definition, the OED provides one example only: the proverb “Wash thy milke off thy liuer, (say we)”, from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave. But the context of […]

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widow’s cruse

widow’s cruse

  The Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta (circa 1630-40), by Bernardo Strozzi (circa 1581-1644) – image: wikiart.org     The noun cruse denotes a small earthenware vessel for liquids. It is of Germanic origin and related to words such as Dutch kroes and Swedish krus, of same meaning. The expression widow’s cruse signifies an […]

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you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

    The proverb you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear means you can’t create a fine product from inferior materials. It originated in Scotland, according to its first recorded instance, in A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699), by “B. E. Gent.”: Luggs, Ears: Hence to Lug by […]

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cold comfort

cold comfort

  AUTHOR OF “COLD COMFORT FARM”: MISS STELLA GIBBONS. Miss Stella Gibbons’s novel has been most favourably reviewed. It is a well-sustained parody of the Loam-and-Love-child school of fiction. from The Sketch (London) of 21st September 1932     The expression cold comfort means inadequate consolation for a misfortune. The adjective cold has long been […]

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to sell a pup

to sell a pup

  photograph: Dog-Names-And-More.com     Frequently used in the passive, the phrase to sell someone a pup means to swindle someone, especially by selling something of little worth on its supposed prospective value. And to buy a pup means to be swindled. The expression is first recorded in 1901. That year, several newspapers gave its […]

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brunch

brunch

    A blend of breakfast and lunch, the noun brunch denotes a late morning meal eaten instead of breakfast and lunch. It originated, apparently in the late 19th century, as Oxford University slang and is first recorded in Lunch at Oxford, by Margaret B. Wright, published in The Independent (New York) of Thursday 22nd August 1895: Five students and one stranger sit at table. Behind […]

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the cold shoulder

the cold shoulder

    The phrase the cold shoulder denotes a show of intentional and marked coldness or of studied indifference. Because the two earliest instances of this phrase recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition – 1989) are from the Scottish novelist and poet Walter Scott (1771-1832) and do not refer to food, Robert Allen […]

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