Tag Archives: animals
lupus

lupus

  illustration from The British Wolf-Hunters. A Tale of England in the Olden Time (1859), by Thomas Miller     The Latin noun lupus/-pi meant wolf. It is kindred with ancient Greek λύκος (= lukos) – cf. lycanthrope, which originally designated a person who believes that he or she is a wolf, and which, via […]

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to lark about

to lark about

  skylark – photograph: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds     The phrasal verb lark about (or around) means to enjoy oneself by behaving in a playful and mischievous way. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary – 1st edition, 1902) indicates the following about the verb lark: The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it […]

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black sheep

black sheep

  photograph: Hill Farm, Abermule     MEANING   a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to it     ORIGIN   This was perhaps originally an allusion to the book of Genesis, 30. Jacob has already worked fourteen years for both of Laban’s daughters, and after Joseph’s birth […]

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to be barking up the wrong tree

to be barking up the wrong tree

    Fess Parker (1924-2010) wearing a coonskin cap in Walt Disney’s 1950s television series Davy Crockett – photograph: AP       MEANING   to be pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action     ORIGIN   In Americanisms, Old and New. A Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Colloquialisms peculiar to the […]

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in the swim

in the swim

  G. A. SALA, TO SIR AUGUSTUS HARRIS, ON PASSING THE PALACE THEATRE:—“I SAY, GUS, THINGS LOOK A LITTLE LIVELIER HERE THAN WHEN YOU AND I WERE IN THE SWIM!” — from The Entr’acte and Limelight (London) of 10th March 1894 (Augustus Harris (1825-73) was a British actor and theatre manager. George Augustus Sala (1828-95), was an English journalist and author.) […]

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one swallow does not make a summer

one swallow does not make a summer

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Thermos       MEANING   a single fortunate event doesn’t mean that what follows will also be good     ORIGIN   The annual migration of swallows to Europe from southern climes at the end of winter was the subject of a proverb in Ancient Greece: μία χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, in […]

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stalking horse

stalking horse

  The forme and manner of the Stalking horse of Canuasse stopt. – from Hungers preuention: or, The whole arte of fowling by water and land Containing all the secrets belonging to that arte (1655 edition)     The term stalking horse originally denoted a horse trained to allow a fowler to conceal himself behind it or under its coverings in order […]

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halcyon

halcyon

  kingfisher – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/JJ Harrison     The Latin noun halcyon, more properly alcyon, was derived from Greek ἀλκυών (= alkuon), incorrectly spelt ἁλκυών (= halkuon), meaning kingfisher. The ancients fabled that the halcyon bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed the […]

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ranz-des-vaches

ranz-des-vaches

  The Ranz des Vaches – from A Complete Dictionary of Music (1779)     The term ranz-des-vaches denotes a type of Swiss melody, traditionally played on the Alpenhorn or sung in order to call cows scattered over the mountainside. The melody is characterised by the reiteration of short phrases and usually contains an element […]

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happy as a clam

happy as a clam

  cherrystone or hardshell clam – photograph: The Fish Society     The phrase (as) happy as a clam means well pleased, quite contented. In Allen’s Dictionary of English Phrases (2008), Robert Allen explains: This American simile is more understandable in its full form, happy as a clam in high water (or at high tide). In these conditions, clams are able to feed and are […]

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