Tag Archives: animals

to have a bee in one’s bonnet

    MEANING   to be preoccupied or obsessed with something     ORIGIN   This phrase is an alliterative and metonymic* transformation of the earlier one’s head full of bees, meaning scatter-brained, unable to think straight, as if bees are buzzing around in one’s head. (* An alliteration: bee and bonnet have the same […]

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Bombay duck

Bombay duck

  Drying Bombay duck – photograph: Madhav Pai       MEANING   a small elongated fish of southern Asian coasts which is dried and used as food     ORIGIN   The first element is an alteration, by association with Bombay (until 1995, the name for Mumbai, in India), of bummalo, which has also […]

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sheeple

sheeple

  The Old Hokum Bucket (1949), by Ernest Rogers photograph: Etsy       MEANING   people likened to sheep in being docile, foolish, or impressionable     ORIGIN   A blend of sheep and people, sheeple seems to have first been used by W. R. Anderson in his column Round About Radio, in The […]

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soap opera

soap opera

  THE DOLEFUL COMPLICATIONS OF SOAP OPERAS are almost beyond explanation. Above is ‘Woman In White.’ Karen Adams (right) divorced Dr. Kirk Harding (left) because he had gotten her sister-in-law, Janet (on death-bed above), with illegitimate child. from the American magazine Life of 27th April 1942       MEANING   a television or radio drama […]

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alligator

alligator

  Bobby Charles – See You Later, Alligator (1955) photograph: Rebound Records     MEANING   a large semiaquatic reptile similar to a crocodile but with a broader and shorter head, native to the Americas and China     ORIGIN   This noun is from Spanish el lagarto, el meaning the and lagarto lizard, from […]

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auto-da-fé

auto-da-fé

  Auto de fe (1853), by Eugenio Lucas Velázquez (1817-70)       This noun is from the obsolete Portuguese form auto da fé (now auto de fé), literally meaning act of faith, composed, after Spanish auto de fe, of the noun auto, meaning public ceremony, judicial decree, writ, the preposition da, of the, and the […]

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doryphore

doryphore

  “Death to the Doryphores” is slogan of schoolchildren off for potato-bug catching. In France “doryphores” is nickname for food-grabbing Germans, who love potatoes. from Vichy vs. France, by Richard de Rochemont – magazine Life, 1st September 1941       The French noun doryphore denotes the Colorado beetle, a yellow-and-black beetle native to America, […]

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panther

panther

  Bija, a two-year-old female black leopard – Picture: Barry Bland/Barcroft Media       MEANING   a leopard, especially a black one     ORIGIN   Via Latin panthera and Anglo-Norman and Old French forms derived from Latin such as panthere and pantere (Modern French panthère), the English noun panther is from ancient Greek […]

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hackneyed – hack

      MEANINGS   – hackneyed, adjective: (of phrases, fashions, etc.) used so often as to be trite, dull and stereotyped – hack, noun: a writer or journalist producing dull, unoriginal work     ORIGIN   The noun hackney, which is first recorded in the late 13th century, originally denoted a horse of middle […]

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hackney carriage

hackney carriage

  an ambling horse miniature from a 13th-century Apocalypse manuscript: The 3rd seal, the black horse       MEANING   (British): the official term for a taxi     ORIGIN   The common noun hackney was originally elliptical for Hackney horse, a horse of Hackney, a town in Middlesex where horses were pastured. (It is […]

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