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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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cherchez la femme

cherchez la femme

  caricature of Alexandre Dumas by André Gill – La Lune, 2nd December 1866     The phrase cherchez la femme, search for the woman, is used to indicate that the key to a problem or mystery is a woman, and that she need only be found for the matter to be solved. It first appeared as a […]

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to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face

to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face

  title page of The deceyte of women, to the instruction and ensample of all men yonge and olde, newly corrected (1557?) Aristotle is being ridden like an ass by the courtesan Phyllis. image: Early Modern Drama Blog         The phrase to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face means to […]

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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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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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pigs might fly

pigs might fly

  Alice (with flamingo) chats with the Duchess illustration by John Tenniel (1820-1914)     “Thinking again?” the Duchess asked, with another dig of her sharp little chin. “I’ve a right to think,” said Alice sharply, for she was beginning to feel a little worried. “Just about as much right,” said the Duchess, “as pigs […]

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one’s best bib and tucker

    MEANING   one’s smartest clothes     ORIGIN   This phrase was originally used only of women’s clothes. A bib was a piece of cloth, usually the upper part of an apron, worn between throat and waist. A tucker was a piece of lace or linen worn in or around the top of […]

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‘pink’

    MEANING   – noun: a colour intermediate between red and white – adjective: of the colour pink     ORIGIN   The original sense of the noun pink, which is first recorded in 1566, is: any of various Old World plants of the caryophyllaceous genus Dianthus, such as Dianthus plumarius (garden pink), cultivated […]

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passéist

passéist

  list of the Manifestes du Mouvement futuriste, from L’Antitradition futuriste: Manifeste-synthèse (29th June 1913) — image : Bibliothèque nationale de France/gallica.bnf.fr     MEANING   – (adjective): having an excessive regard for the traditions and values of the past – (noun): a person, especially a writer or artist, with excessive regard for the traditions and […]

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omelette

    MEANING   a dish of beaten eggs cooked in a frying pan and served plain or with a savoury or sweet topping or filling     ORIGIN   It is an early-17th-century borrowing from French omelette, which is attested in the mid-16th century and is an alteration of amelette. The change in the initial […]

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