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ivory tower

ivory tower

  Sainte-Beuve in the 1860s       MEANING   a state of privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world     ORIGIN   This is a literal translation of the French tour d’ivoire, coined by the poet and critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-69) in his 1837 poem À […]

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propaganda

propaganda

    During the 16th century, missionary activity was controlled mainly by Spain and Portugal, and Pope Gregory XV strongly felt the need to centralise its administration within the Holy See itself.   To this end, on 22 June 1622, he issued the bull Inscrutabili Divinæ, by which was instituted the Sacred Congregation for Propagating […]

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hocus-pocus

hocus-pocus

  The decapitation in ‘Hocus Pocus Junior’   The term hocus-pocus seems to have appeared in English in the early 17th century, as the assumed name of a particular conjuror, derived from the sham Latin formula employed by him. A later writer, Thomas Ady, described his act: I will speak of one man … that […]

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‘guy’

‘guy’

  The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, by Heinrich Ulrich early 17th century - National Portrait Gallery Guy (“Guido”) Fawkes is third from the right        The proper name Guy is derived, via French, from the Old German Wido, either from wit, meaning wide, or from witu, wood. Wido has become Guy in French because in words of Germanic origin, when initial, the labio-velar approximant /w/ has regularly become the […]

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‘Temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer

‘Temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer

  Notre Dame du Port – Clermont Ferrand (France)     To this day I suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill. Martin Luther - 1535     The Lord’s Prayer, le Notre-Père in French, is a central prayer in Christianity. The […]

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bonfire

bonfire

  a Fifth of November bonfire in Hastings – photograph: VisitEngland       In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined bonfire: [from bon, good, French, and fire.] A fire made for some publick cause of triumph or exultation. In support of this etymology, bonfire in several languages is, literally, fire of joy. For example: – […]

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Green, an unsettling colour

Green, an unsettling colour

      Verdigris is a bright bluish-green encrustation or patina formed on copper or brass by atmospheric oxidation, consisting of basic copper carbonate. The word verdigris is from Old French verte-gres, earlier vert de Grece, meaning green of Greece.     ETYMOLOGIES   The word green is etymologically related to the words grass and grow. And […]

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Secularism and religion in France

Secularism and religion in France

  As a French citizen, I’m always surprised that in Great Britain, State and Religion are linked. For example, it would be totally unthinkable in France that the Head of State also be the Head of any Church. Whilst the Queen delivers a speech on Christmas Day, the French President presents his (not yet her) […]

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Communing in the South Pacific

    The ten years I spent as a French teacher in several small South Pacific countries have taught me a lot. Being immersed in radically different civilisations has greatly helped me: not only to define myself but also to learn what real respect consists of.   In particular, I spent three years on one […]

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