Tag Archives: Christianity
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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trick or treat

trick or treat

  London Weekend Television logo       Originally North American, the phrase trick or treat is a traditional formula used at Hallowe’en by children who call on houses threatening to play a trick unless given a treat or present. It is recent, since it is first recorded in The Lethbridge Herald (Alberta, Canada) of […]

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earthling

earthling

  cover of Thrilling Wonder Stories (August 1951)     The noun earthling is composed of earth and the suffix -ling, meaning, in this case, a person belonging to. In science fiction, it is used by aliens to refer to an inhabitant of the earth. But this noun, which dates back to the late 16th […]

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heart of hearts

heart of hearts

  Sir William Davenant (1672), by William Faithorne, after John Greenhill image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   the depths of one’s conscience or emotions     ORIGIN   This anatomically curious but firmly established expression is a variant of the older and more comprehensible heart of heart, meaning very centre of the heart, which was […]

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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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field bishop

field bishop

  The term field bishop denotes a person who is hanged and imagined as grotesquely giving a benediction with his jerking legs. It is first recorded in A mysterye of inyquyte contayned within the heretycall genealogye of Ponce Pantolabus (1545), by John Bale (1495-1563), Bishop of Ossory, evangelical polemicist and historian: What your ende shall […]

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short shrift

short shrift

  The Murder of the Princes in the Tower – illustration from The National and Domestic History of England (1870?-80?), by William Hickman Smith Aubrey (1848?-1916)     The expression short shrift means brief and unsympathetic treatment, and to make short shrift of means to dispose of quickly and unsympathetically. A short shrift was originally […]

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to miss the bus

to miss the bus

  The phrase to miss the bus, or the boat, etc., means to be too slow to take advantage of an opportunity. In A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), B. A. Phythian explained: This expression is said to originate in an Oxford story of the 1840s about John Henry Newman, fellow of Oriel College, vicar of the University […]

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window

window

  oeil-de-boeuf (literally eye-of-steer) window photograph: Lynne Furrer/Shutterstock.com       The noun window is from Middle English windoȝe, a borrowing from Old Norse vindauga, literally wind’s eye, from vindr, wind, and auga, eye. The Scandinavian word replaced and finally superseded Old English éagþyrel, i.e. eyethirl, composed of the nouns eye and thirl. The noun […]

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pandemonium

pandemonium

  Charles Macklin (circa 1792), by John Opie image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANING   a place or state of utter confusion and uproar     ORIGIN   In Paradise Lost (1667), the English poet John Milton (1608-74) invented the word Pandæmonium, with a capital P, as the name for the capital of Hell, containing the […]

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