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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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teetotum

teetotum

  L’Enfant au toton (1738), by Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)     The word teetotum, which dates back to the 18th century, denotes a small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the […]

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to sleep like a top

to sleep like a top

   whip and top – St Fagans National History Museum       MEANING   to sleep very soundly     ORIGIN   In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explains that, unlikely as it may seem, the top referred to here is the child’s toy which seems not to […]

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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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island – aisle

    The noun island is from Old English íegland, ígland, a pleonastic compound of íeg, íg, meaning isle, and land. The literal meaning of íeg is watered place. This word is related to Old English éa, water, river, and a compound frequent in Old English was éaland, literally water-land, river-land. Old English éa is related […]

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‘ado’

    MEANINGS   – ado: a state of agitation or fuss – without further, or more, ado: without further fuss or delay – much ado about nothing: a great deal of fuss or trouble over nothing of any significance     ORIGIN   The noun ado is from northern Middle English at do, of Scandinavian […]

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this mortal coil

    MEANING   the troubles and activities of this mortal life     ORIGIN   In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined the noun coil: Tumult; turmoil; bustle; stir; hurry; confusion. This obsolete noun is probably from Old French acueil (Modern French accueil), meaning reception, encounter. […]

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to lick someone/something into shape

    MEANING   to act forcefully to bring someone or something into a fitter, more efficient, or better-organised state     ORIGIN   It was believed that bear cubs were born formless and had to be licked into shape by their mother. In his encyclopaedia of the natural and human worlds, Naturalis Historia (The […]

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picnic

picnic

  Blowing up the PIC NIC’s:—or—Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomime (1802), by James Gillray (1756-1815) — image: The British Museum         MEANING   a meal eaten outdoors     ORIGIN   This word is from French pique-nique, probably formed with reduplication from the verb piquer, to pick. (Similarly, pêle-mêle, […]

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