Tag Archives: Académie française
teetotum

teetotum

  L’Enfant au toton (1738), by Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)     The word teetotum, which dates back to the 18th century, denotes a small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the […]

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picnic

picnic

  Blowing up the PIC NIC’s:—or—Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomime (1802), by James Gillray (1756-1815) — image: The British Museum         MEANING   a meal eaten outdoors     ORIGIN   This word is from French pique-nique, probably formed with reduplication from the verb piquer, to pick. (Similarly, pêle-mêle, […]

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to busk

    MEANING   to perform music or some other entertainment in the street or other public place for voluntary donations     ORIGIN   To busk is from the obsolete French verb busquer, thus defined by Randle Cotgrave in A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611): Busquer. To shift, filtch; prowle, catch […]

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to have one’s work cut out

    MEANING   to be faced with a hard or lengthy task     ORIGIN   This phrase is supposedly a metaphorical allusion to the preparation of fabric to be worked on: once the shapes have been cut out, the tailor still has a lot of sewing to do, by hand in the past, […]

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cordon bleu

cordon bleu

  cross and blue ribbon of the order of the Holy Ghost (18th century) photograph: Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais       The French noun cordon denotes a ribbon, usually worn scarf-wise, as part of the insignia of a knightly order. The cordon bleu (the blue ribbon) was the sky-blue ribbon worn by […]

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touchstone

touchstone

  goldsmith’s touchstone carved with initials HB and the date 1642 photograph: Finch & Cº – Antiques & Works of Art     Touche stone to prove golde with John Palsgrave – Lesclarcissement de la langue francoyse (1530)       MEANING   A touchstone is a standard or criterion by which something is judged […]

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by rote

by rote

  At school in the year 2000 From a series of futuristic pictures, by Jean-Marc Côté and other artists, first produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris     Dating back to the early 14th century, the word rote means mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned.   The phrase by rote […]

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Trench talk

Trench talk

       The following article was published in the American Everybody’s Magazine of January 1918.   Trench Talk Some Characteristic Slang Creations of the Soldiers War is rich in new speech — so rich that in France, learned members of the French Academy have already begun to recognize, collect, and try to analyze some […]

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pushing up daisies

pushing up daisies

  Pushing Daisies American television series – October 2007- June 2009           To be pushing up (the) daisies is to be dead and buried.   Daisies had been associated with death before (read to turn up one’s toes), but to be pushing up (the) daisies was originally WWI British slang. In January […]

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mum’s the word

mum’s the word

    Be like Dad – Keep Mum! Careless talk costs lives! a 1940-42 British poster (source: East Carolina University - http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/10976)           To keep mum is to remain silent, especially so as not to reveal a secret. And mum’s the word, as a request or warning, means say nothing; do not […]

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