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valentine

valentine

  photograph: Hot Rocks       There are two Valentines, both Italian, one a priest and the other a bishop, who were martyred and used to be commemorated in the Roman Catholic calendar on 14th February.   However, they have no romantic associations and the modern customs linked with St Valentine’s Day arise from […]

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wooden spoon

wooden spoon

  The last Wooden Spoon, presented in 1909 to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse source: University of Cambridge       MEANING   An imaginary prize said to be awarded to the person who is last in a race or other competition.     ORIGIN   At Cambridge University, an over-sized wooden spoon was traditionally presented to […]

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sycophant

sycophant

  amulet representing the ‘fig’ hand (mano in fica) illustration from The Evil Eye (1895) by Frederick Thomas Elworthy       MEANING   A sycophant is a person who acts obsequiously towards someone important in order to gain advantage.     ORIGIN   The noun sycophant is from Latin sycophanta, meaning an informer, slanderer, […]

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ladybird

ladybird

  ladybird on strawberry leaf – photograph: nutmeg66       A coccinellid is a beetle of the family Coccinellidae. The genus name Coccinella is from Latin coccineus, scarlet (cochineal, a scarlet dye, has the same origin). This family includes the ladybirds (ladybugs in American English).The scientific name of the common European seven-spot ladybird is […]

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gossamer

gossamer

  photograph: Mark A. Chappell     MEANING   A fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders, seen especially in autumn.     ORIGIN   The word gossamer, which appeared in the early 14th century in the form gosesomer, is apparently composed of goose and summer. The reason for the appellation is […]

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pansy

pansy

      The name pansy was originally applied to the heartsease (Viola tricolor, family Violaceae), now wild pansy, which has given rise to hybrids from which most garden pansies were developed (genus Viola, family Violaceae). This name is a borrowing from Middle French pensée, a transferred use of pensée, thought, the flower being considered […]

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orient

orient

  The Latin verb oriri meant, of persons, to rise, bestir oneself, get up, and, of heavenly bodies, to rise, become visible. Hence, as a noun, the present participle oriens/orientis denoted the rising sun and the quarter where the sun rises, the East, the Orient, as opposed to occidens/occidentis, the West, the Occident (the Latin […]

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rosemary

rosemary

  Rosmarinus officinalis - Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887), published by Franz Eugen Köhler     Rosemary is an evergreen aromatic shrub of the mint family, native to southern Europe. The narrow leaves are used as a culinary herb, in perfumery, and as an emblem of remembrance. (Scientific name: Rosmarinus officinalis, family Labiatae)   The word is apparently a folk-etymological […]

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good wine needs no bush

good wine needs no bush

  Bacchino malato (Young sick Bacchus) – circa 1593 – self-portrait by Caravaggio     The proverb good wine needs no bush means something that is good does not need to be advertised.   The bush in this sense of advertisement is the branch or bunch of ivy that used to be hung up as a […]

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Argus-eyed

Argus-eyed

  Fábula de Mercurio y Argos (1659) by Diego Velázquez     To be Argus-eyed is to be vigilant.   Argus, the Latinised form of Greek Argos, was thus defined in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (1849), edited by William Smith: Argus Surnamed Panoptes. He derived his surname, Panoptes, the all-seeing, […]

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