Tag Archives: Ben Jonson
‘Ajax’

‘Ajax’

  This word means a toilet, especially an outdoor one. The following is from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave: Retraict [modern French retrait]: masculine. An Aiax, Priuie, house of Office [= outdoor toilet]. It is a humorous respelling of a jakes, of same meaning, after Ajax, the name of a hero in Greek mythology. […]

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Morton’s fork

    MEANING   a practical dilemma, especially one in which both choices are equally undesirable     ORIGIN   John Morton (circa 1420-1500), Archbishop of Canterbury, cardinal and Lord Chancellor to King Henry VII, is traditionally believed to have developed a method of levying forced loans by arguing that those who were obviously rich […]

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the dog’s letter

the dog’s letter

  Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam by Sebastian Brant       The dog’s letter is a name for the letter R, from its resemblance in sound to the snarl of a dog. It was so named after Latin canina litera, used by the Roman poet Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus – 34-62) in his first Satire: […]

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to turn turtle

to turn turtle

      MEANING   (chiefly of a boat): to turn upside down     ORIGIN   Sailors originally invented this phrase when they learnt to overturn the marine tortoise, or turtle, which is suitable for food, in order to immobilise it. The earliest known use of the phrase in this literal sense is in […]

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torpedo

torpedo

  1912 Fiat Type 3 torpedo     The original meaning of torpedo is a flat fish of the genus Torpedo or family Torpedinidæ, having an almost circular body with tapering tail, and characterised by the faculty of emitting electric discharges. It is also called electric ray, cramp-ray, cramp-fish and numbfish. The word is from Latin […]

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rosemary

rosemary

  Rosmarinus officinalis - Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887), published by Franz Eugen Köhler     Rosemary is an evergreen aromatic shrub of the mint family, native to southern Europe. The narrow leaves are used as a culinary herb, in perfumery, and as an emblem of remembrance. (Scientific name: Rosmarinus officinalis, family Labiatae)   The word is apparently a folk-etymological […]

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deaf as an adder

deaf as an adder

  Adult female adder (Vipera berus)   The country people say that an adder can never die till sunset. If it be cut to pieces, the bits will retain their vitality till the sun goes down. They also say that on the adder’s belly will be found the words: If I could hear as well […]

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no love lost

no love lost

  illustration for Children in the Wood: or, The Norfolk Gentleman’s last Will and Testament (1818)     The phrase there’s no, or little, or not much, love lost between means there is mutual dislike between. This expression is ambiguous, and has also been used to mean there is mutual affection between. Both senses are […]

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conundrum

conundrum

    Countdown – ITV       The origin of the word conundrum is lost. It was referred to as an Oxford term in the Kingdom’s Weekly Post dated 16th December 1645: This is the man who would have his device alwayes in his sermons, which in Oxford they then called conundrums. For an […]

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gazette

gazette

      Venetian gazeta       In A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), Randle Cotgrave gave the following definition of the French word gazette: A certaine Venetian coyne scarce worth our farthing; also, a Bill of Newes; or, a short Relation of the generall occurrences of the Time, forged most commonly at Venice, and thence […]

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