Tag Archives: animals
supercilious

supercilious

    MEANING   displaying arrogant pride, scorn, or indifference     ORIGIN   This word dates back to the first half of the 16th century. It is a borrowing from the Latin adjective superciliosus, meaning haughty, disdainful, and censorious, severe. This Latin word was in turn derived from the noun supercilium, meaning an eyebrow, […]

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squirrel

squirrel

  photograph: Peter Trimming       The noun squirrel, which appeared in Middle English in forms such as squyrel and squerell, is from Anglo-Norman and Old French forms such as escuirel and escureul (Modern French écureuil), from the unattested Late Latin scuriolus, diminutive of an unattested altered form of the Latin word sciurus (biologists have retained the […]

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between the devil and the deep blue sea

between the devil and the deep blue sea

  contemporary etching of troop disposition at the beginning of the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)       MEANING   in a difficult situation where there are two equally unpleasant choices     ORIGIN   The reference to the sea suggests a nautical origin. The use by sailors of devil as a name for a […]

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pilgrim

pilgrim

  Canterbury Cathedral     The Latin adjective pereger/-gris, composed of per, through, and ager/agri, a field, a land, literally meant who has gone through lands, hence who is on a journey, away from home. From this adjective was derived the adverb peregri, peregre, meaning abroad, and to, or from, foreign parts. This in turn […]

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hobby

hobby

      According to one theory, the noun hobby, in its original sense of a small horse or pony, is from the French noun of same meaning formerly spelt hobin, obin, etc., now aubin. This theory says that this noun is from the French verb hober, to move, derived from the verb hobeler, to […]

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bugbear

bugbear

  a lamia, from The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) (A lamia was a fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood of children.)       MEANING   a cause of obsessive fear, anxiety or irritation     ORIGIN   […]

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‘onyx’

‘onyx’

  photograph: Health This Year      MEANING   a semi-precious variety of agate with different colours in layers     ORIGIN   Via Anglo-Norman and Old French forms such as onix and onice (Modern French onyx), the English word is from Latin onyx/onych-. This Latin noun is from Greek ὄνυξ/ὀνυχ- (onux/onukh-), which literally meant […]

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preposterous

preposterous

  title page of The discouerie of witchcraft (1584)       MEANING   contrary to nature, reason, or sense; absurd; ridiculous     ORIGIN   The adjective preposterous is from Latin praeposterus, meaning reversed, inverted, perverted, distorted, absurd, etc. This Latin adjective is composed of the adverb prae, in front, before, and the adjective […]

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facilis descensus Averno

facilis descensus Averno

  Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus (circa 1798), by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) – image: Tate       MEANING   It is easy to slip into evil or immoral ways.     ORIGIN   Lake Avernus (in Italian Lago Averno) is a crater lake in Campania, southern Italy, near Cumae and Puteoli, […]

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nightmare

nightmare

  Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825) – Der Nachtmahr (1790)       The noun mare, which appeared in early Old English, denoted a spirit believed to produce a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal, hence also a feeling of suffocation experienced during sleep, and an oppressive or terrifying dream. Unrelated to mare in […]

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