Tag Archives: Académie française

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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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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nabob

nabob

      Asaf-ud-dowlah, a Mogul nawab, listening to musicians in his court – 1812       A nabob is a person of conspicuous wealth or high status.   The word is from Hindi nawwāb, nabāb, viceroy, governor, itself from Arabic nuwwāb, plural of na’ib, meaning lieutenant, representative, replacement.   This Arabic na’ib is […]

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point-blank – de but en blanc

point-blank – de but en blanc

  Gunner’s quadrant Quadrant consisting of two arms of unequal length joined at a right angle and fitted with a graduated arc. At the vertex of the right angle is suspended a plumb bob that shows the degrees on the graduated arc. It was typically used to measure the elevation of artillery pieces, by inserting […]

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Le nénufar et l’ognon (ou les avatars de l’orthographe française)

  Le préjugé orthographique ne se justifie ni par la logique, ni par l’histoire… il se fonde sur une tradition relativement récente, formée surtout d’ignorance. Histoire de la langue française, par Ferdinand Brunot (1860-1938)     Les Français considèrent souvent l’orthographe de leur langue comme quasi sacrée – comme si elle était gravée dans le […]

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