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by bell, book, and candle

by bell, book, and candle

  The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875) by Jean-Paul Laurens The officiants have just excommunicated Robert by bell, book, and candle, and left the quenched candle behind. Robert II of France was excommunicated by Pope Gregory V for his marriage to Bertha of Burgundy in 996, because she was his cousin.     In a previous article (tace […]

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tace is Latin for candle

tace is Latin for candle

        The obsolete phrase tace is Latin for (a) candle means do not throw light on it, keep it dark, secret. Latin tace means be silent, and candle is symbolical of light.    It was used by Jonathan Swift in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, published in 1738 but […]

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white feather

white feather

  illustration for The White Feather. A Sketch of English Recruiting   Inglorious Upshot That evening as he was walking from the station on his way home, three smartly-dressed girls, approaching, barred the pavement. He stopped. “How young he is, the poor darling!” murmured fondly the central maiden, and, suddenly producing a large white feather, […]

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fresh as a daisy

fresh as a daisy

        The word daisy is from Old English dæges ēage, meaning day’s eye. This name alludes to the fact that the flower opens in the morning and closes at night, as the human eye does. Perhaps its petals, which close over its bright centre at the end of the day, were also thought to resemble human eyelashes. […]

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on the side of the angels

on the side of the angels

  Benjamin Disraeli, photographed by Cornelius Jabez Hughes – 1878         The phrase on the side of the angels means on the side of what is right.   It was coined by Benjamin Disraeli in an 1864 speech at Oxford University.   Intense controversy was then in progress over the implications of […]

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jackanapes

jackanapes

      Heraldic arms of William de la Pole       A jackanapes is a cheeky or impertinent person, but the word used to designate a tame monkey.   Its origin is uncertain. It first appeared as a derisive nickname of William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, whose badge was a clog […]

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an ill wind

an ill wind

     First performed on 14th May 1860 at the Adelphi Theatre, London       It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good is a proverb meaning few things are so bad that no one profits from them.   The phrase was already referred to as an “old proverb” in The Interlude of […]

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the pupil – la pupille

    In the Bible, the apple of the eye corresponds to French la prunelle de l’œil. (For more, read The apple of one’s eye – la prunelle de ses yeux)   These phrases translate the Latin pupilla oculi (the pupil of the eye) of the Vulgate, and nigrum pupillæ oculi (the black of the […]

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to rule the roost

to rule the roost

  Roasting, Middle Ages. Luttrell Psalter – from Good Cheer: The Romance of Food and Feasting (1911), by Frederick W. Hackwood     To rule the roost means to be in a dominating position over others. This phrase conjures up a picture of a cock lording it over a group of hens, i.e. a roost, in the farmyard, and appears […]

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simnel cake

simnel cake

          Mothering Sunday is Mid-Lent Sunday (i.e. the fourth Sunday of Lent). It was also known as Refreshment Sunday because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed that day.   The food item specially associated with Mothering Sunday is the simnel cake – and Mothering Sunday was also sometimes called Simnel […]

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