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a skeleton at the feast

a skeleton at the feast

  Death comes to the table, by Giovanni Martinelli (1600-1659) image: The Art Tribune     The phrase a skeleton at the feast, or at the banquet, denotes a person or event that brings gloom or sadness to an occasion of joy or celebration. This was originally an allusion to the practice of the ancient […]

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peeping Tom

peeping Tom

  A drawing of Peeping Tom, in the exact state in which he is carved, but divested of all paint and superfluous ornaments. W. Reader in The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle (London) of July 1826 The Coventry Peeping Tom statue, which dates from around 1500, survives today. Though it is now stripped down to the oak, […]

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beyond the pale

beyond the pale

    MEANING   outside the limits of social convention     ORIGIN   The primary meanings of the noun pale are a wooden stake or post used with others to form a fence and a wooden fence made of stakes driven into the ground. This word appeared in the late 14th century and is […]

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milliner

milliner

  A Morning Ramble, or The Milliners Shop (1782) image: The British Museum     A milliner is a person (generally a woman) who makes or sells women’s hats. But a Milliner was originally a native or inhabitant of Milan, a city in northern Italy. The word is first recorded in this sense in an Act of Parliament in 1449: That every Venician, Italian, Januey, […]

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the fourth estate

the fourth estate

    MEANING   the press; the profession of journalism     ORIGIN   The first known user of the expression, designating the ordinary people, was the English author and magistrate Henry Fielding (1707-54) writing, under the pseudonym of Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain, in The Covent-Garden Journal of Saturday 13th June 1752: It may seem […]

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The language of domination

The language of domination

   Sir Walter Scott (1829), replica by John Graham Gilbert image: National Portrait Gallery     The Anglo-Saxons were the Germanic inhabitants of England before the Conquest, i.e. the invasion and assumption of control by William of Normandy in 1066. Known as William the Conqueror, William I (circa 1027-87) defeated Harold II at the Battle of […]

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gas and gaiters

gas and gaiters

  Mysterious appearance of the gentleman in the small-clothes illustration by “PHIZ” for the first edition of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby     “It’s all right, Bertie.” “She loves you still?” “Yes.” “Good.” “She wept on my chest.” “Fine.” “And said she was sorry she had been cross. I said ‘There, there!’ […]

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to boycott

    MEANING   to refuse to have dealings with a person, organisation, etc., or to refuse to buy a product, as a protest or means of coercion     ORIGIN   This verb is from the name of Captain Charles C. Boycott (1832-97), Irish land agent for the Earl of Erne, County Mayo, Ireland, […]

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mare’s nest

    MEANINGS   – a discovery imagined to be important but proving worthless – a disordered situation     ORIGIN   This expression is first recorded in Galateo of Maister Iohn Della Casa, Archebishop of Beneuenta. Or rather, A treatise of the maners and behauiours, it behoueth a man to vse and eschewe, in his familiar […]

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tycoon

    MEANING   a wealthy, powerful person in business or industry     ORIGIN   This word is from Japanese taikun, itself from Chinese ta, great, and chün, ruler. Tycoon was originally the title by which the shogun of Japan was described to foreigners from the mid-19th century to the end of the Tokugawa […]

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