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gianduja

gianduja

  Gianduja e Giandujotto (1986), by the Italian artist Walther Jervolino (1944-2012)     The Italian noun gianduia (improperly gianduja) appeared in the 19th century to denote a soft confection made with chocolate and ground hazelnuts, first produced in Turin, the capital of Piedmont, a region in north-western Italy, in the foothills of the Alps. […]

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wouldn’t say boo to a goose

wouldn’t say boo to a goose

  photograph: Blackwells farm shop     The phrase wouldn’t say boo to a goose is used to emphasise that someone is very timid. Here, boo is not an expression of disapproval but a later form of bo, an exclamation intended to frighten. In Notes and Queries of 10th September 1870, the English philologist Walter William Skeat (1835-1912) wrote: “Cry Bo to a Goose” This has […]

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lupus

lupus

  illustration from The British Wolf-Hunters. A Tale of England in the Olden Time (1859), by Thomas Miller     The Latin noun lupus/-pi meant wolf. It is kindred with ancient Greek λύκος (= lukos) – cf. lycanthrope, which originally designated a person who believes that he or she is a wolf, and which, via […]

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black sheep

black sheep

  photograph: Hill Farm, Abermule     MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it     ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth […]

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trick or treat

trick or treat

  London Weekend Television logo       Originally North American, the phrase trick or treat is a traditional formula used at Hallowe’en by children who call on houses threatening to play a trick unless given a treat or present. It is recent, since it is first recorded in The Lethbridge Herald (Alberta, Canada) of […]

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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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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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field bishop

field bishop

  The term field bishop denotes a person who is hanged and imagined as grotesquely giving a benediction with his jerking legs. It is first recorded in A mysterye of inyquyte contayned within the heretycall genealogye of Ponce Pantolabus (1545), by John Bale (1495-1563), Bishop of Ossory, evangelical polemicist and historian: What your ende shall […]

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short shrift

short shrift

  The Murder of the Princes in the Tower – illustration from The National and Domestic History of England (1870?-80?), by William Hickman Smith Aubrey (1848?-1916)     The expression short shrift means brief and unsympathetic treatment, and to make short shrift of means to dispose of quickly and unsympathetically. A short shrift was originally […]

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