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earthling

earthling

  cover of Thrilling Wonder Stories (August 1951)     The noun earthling is composed of earth and the suffix -ling, meaning, in this case, a person belonging to. In science fiction, it is used by aliens to refer to an inhabitant of the earth. But this noun, which dates back to the late 16th […]

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one swallow does not make a summer

one swallow does not make a summer

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Thermos       MEANING   a single fortunate event doesn’t mean that what follows will also be good     ORIGIN   The annual migration of swallows to Europe from southern climes at the end of winter was the subject of a proverb in Ancient Greece: μία χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, in […]

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pour encourager les autres

pour encourager les autres

  The Shooting of Admiral Byng on board the Monarque (1757) unknown engraver – image: National Portrait Gallery     The phrase pour encourager les autres is used, of a punishment or sacrifice, to mean as an example to the others, to deter or encourage the others. This French phrase is composed of pour, in order to, encourager, encourage, and les autres, the […]

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hand of glory

hand of glory

  mandragoras – from Stirpium historiae pemptades sex sive libri XXX (1583), by Rembert Dodoens     The term hand of glory originally denoted a charm made from, or consisting of, the root of a mandrake. A calque of French main de gloire, it was first used in Curiosities of nature and art in husbandry and gardening (1707), the translation by Arthur Young of Curiositez […]

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loose cannon

loose cannon

  naval gunnery in the old days An 18-ton gun in action at the bombardment of Alexandria. The gun has just recoiled after firing. No. 1 is “serving the vent.” The sponge end is being passed to be thrust out of the small scuttle in the middle of the port (which is closed as soon […]

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Mamamouchi

Mamamouchi

  frontispiece and title page from a 1688 edition of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme     In his comédie-ballet Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (literally The Bourgeois Gentleman – 1670), the French playwright and actor Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin – 1622-73) invented the word Mamamouchi, an imaginary Turkish title that Monsieur Jourdain is gulled into thinking the son of the Grand Turk confers upon him. (Jourdain is […]

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stalking horse

stalking horse

  The forme and manner of the Stalking horse of Canuasse stopt. – from Hungers preuention: or, The whole arte of fowling by water and land Containing all the secrets belonging to that arte (1655 edition)     The term stalking horse originally denoted a horse trained to allow a fowler to conceal himself behind it or under its coverings in order […]

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heart of hearts

heart of hearts

  Sir William Davenant (1672), by William Faithorne, after John Greenhill image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   the depths of one’s conscience or emotions     ORIGIN   This anatomically curious but firmly established expression is a variant of the older and more comprehensible heart of heart, meaning very centre of the heart, which was […]

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halcyon

halcyon

  kingfisher – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/JJ Harrison     The Latin noun halcyon, more properly alcyon, was derived from Greek ἀλκυών (= alkuon), incorrectly spelt ἁλκυών (= halkuon), meaning kingfisher. The ancients fabled that the halcyon bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed the […]

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Shock-headed Peter

Shock-headed Peter

  In The English Struwwelpeter and the Birth of International Copyright (The Library, journal of the Bibliographical Society, 2013), Jane Brown and Gregory Jones explain that the ancient free city of Frankfurt am Main saw in 1845 the first appearance of Dr Heinrich Hoffmann¹’s Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder², a German children’s Christmas picture book. One of the […]

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