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walk of life

walk of life

  The whole Psalter translated into English metre (1567?) photograph: Bodleian Library & Radcliffe Camera       The expression walk of life denotes a person’s occupation or position within society. It seems to have appeared in the early 18th century. In A Dialogue in the Elizium Fields between Lælius and Timon, of Friendship (published in […]

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kamikaze

kamikaze

  Mongols’ Invasion (Mooko shuurai - 1847), by Kikuchi Yoosai (1781-1878) image: Wikimedia Commons       Shinto (the way of the gods, from Chinese shên, gods, and tao, way) is the native Japanese religion dating from the early 8th century and incorporating the worship of ancestors and nature spirits and a belief in sacred power (kami) in […]

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‘onyx’

‘onyx’

  photograph: Health This Year      MEANING   a semi-precious variety of agate with different colours in layers     ORIGIN   Via Anglo-Norman and Old French forms such as onix and onice (Modern French onyx), the English word is from Latin onyx/onych-. This Latin noun is from Greek ὄνυξ/ὀνυχ- (onux/onukh-), which literally meant […]

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facilis descensus Averno

facilis descensus Averno

  Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus (circa 1798), by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) – image: Tate       MEANING   It is easy to slip into evil or immoral ways.     ORIGIN   Lake Avernus (in Italian Lago Averno) is a crater lake in Campania, southern Italy, near Cumae and Puteoli, […]

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the road to hell is paved with good intentions

the road to hell is paved with good intentions

  Hugh Stowell Brown       MEANING   Promises and plans must be put into action, otherwise they are useless.     ORIGIN   Versions of this proverb exist in several European languages; for example, the French one is l’enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions. St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) attributed the maxim to […]

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to eat someone’s salt

to eat someone’s salt

  Fluellen intimidating Pistol (circa 1850), by Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901)       Salt has strong symbolic connotations. The phrase the salt of the earth, which now denotes a person or group of people regarded as the finest of their kind, comes the gospel of Matthew, 5:13, where Jesus described his disciples and meant […]

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cobra

cobra

  Indian cobra – photograph: Kamalnv/Wikimedia Commons The cobras constitute the genus Naja, or Naia. This is a modern Latin name, ultimately from Sanskrit nāga, snake. In Indian mythology, a Naga is a member of a race of semi-divine creatures, often part-snake, associated with rivers, rain, etc.       The noun cobra is short […]

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giddy

giddy

  John Ray (1627-1705) – image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANINGS   dizzy; affected with a reeling sensation and feeling as if about to fall causing or tending to cause vertigo impulsive; scatter-brained     ORIGIN   This adjective is from Old English gidig, insane, mad, from the Germanic base of god. Its […]

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cabal

cabal

  Charles II (circa 1653) by Philippe de Champaigne       MEANINGS a secret or exclusive set of people a small group of intriguers, especially one formed for political purposes a secret plot, especially a political one     ORIGIN   The English word Kabbala, also spelt Kabbala, Cabbala, Cabala, or Qabalah, which dates […]

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jeremiad

jeremiad

  Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem (circa 1630), by Rembrandt (1606-69)       Jeremiah (circa 650-585 BC) was a Hebrew prophet who foresaw the fall of Assyria, the conquest of his country by Egypt and Babylon, and the destruction of Jerusalem. He is traditionally regarded as the author or part-author of two Old […]

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