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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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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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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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window

window

  oeil-de-boeuf (literally eye-of-steer) window photograph: Lynne Furrer/Shutterstock.com       The noun window is from Middle English windoȝe, a borrowing from Old Norse vindauga, literally wind’s eye, from vindr, wind, and auga, eye. The Scandinavian word replaced and finally superseded Old English éagþyrel, i.e. eyethirl, composed of the nouns eye and thirl. The noun […]

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pastiche – pastis

pastiche – pastis

  pasticcio di carne – photograph: www.cucinafilm.it     The noun pastis designates an aniseed-flavoured aperitif, while pastiche, or pasticcio, denotes a work of art that imitates the style of another artist or period and a work of art that mixes styles, materials, etc. Unlikely as it may seem, these words are doublets, or etymological twins: although […]

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fag end

fag end

        MEANINGS   – the last part of something, especially when regarded as less important or interesting – British, informal: a cigarette end     ORIGIN   The obsolete adjective flag, attested in the late 16th century, meant flabby, hanging down. It was either an onomatopoeic formation or, via Middle French flac, from Latin flaccus, of same meaning. […]

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foie gras

foie gras

  duck being force-fed corn in order to fatten its liver for foie gras production photograph: GAIA – Voice of the Voiceless     The French term foie gras, from foie, liver, and gras, fat, fatty, denotes the liver of a specially fattened goose or duck prepared as food. Short for pâté de foie gras, […]

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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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corduroy

corduroy

  photograph: javi.velazquez       MEANING   a heavy cotton pile fabric with lengthways ribs     ORIGIN: UNKNOWN   The original form of this noun, in the late 18th century, was corderoy. The earliest use of the word that I could find is in The Manchester Mercury (Lancashire) of Tuesday 7th April 1772: Manchester, March 23, 1772. STOLEN. From […]

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