Tag Archives: colours
‘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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green man

green man

  This character, which is that of a wild or savage man, was very common in the pageants of former times, and seems to have been very popular. from The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, by Joseph Strutt (edited by William Hone – 1838)       PAGEANTS   In Tudor and […]

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cordon bleu

cordon bleu

  cross and blue ribbon of the order of the Holy Ghost (18th century) photograph: Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais       The French noun cordon denotes a ribbon, usually worn scarf-wise, as part of the insignia of a knightly order. The cordon bleu (the blue ribbon) was the sky-blue ribbon worn by […]

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Albion

Albion

  The name Albion did not originally refer to the white cliffs of Dover. (photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Fanny)       The name Albion first appeared in English in the very first sentence of the first Book of the 9th-century translation of Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) originally written by the English monk, theologian […]

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red herring

    MEANING   a clue or piece of information which is, or is intended to be, misleading or distracting     ORIGIN   A red herring is a dried smoked herring, which is turned red by the smoke. The figurative usage of the term originally referred to the former practice of laying trails for […]

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white elephant

white elephant

  a royal white elephant (Thai painting)       MEANING   A white elephant is a burdensome or costly objective, enterprise, or possession, especially one that appears magnificent.     ORIGIN   FALSE ORIGIN   According to a widespread theory, this figurative sense of white elephant refers to the story that the kings of Siam (now Thailand) would make […]

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smoke and mirrors

smoke and mirrors

  Jimmy Breslin, born in 1930, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American political journalist and author.       MEANING   the obscuring or embellishing of the truth of a situation with misleading or irrelevant information     ORIGIN   This phrase refers to the illusion created by conjuring tricks. It was coined by the American […]

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Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

  Advertisement in the magazine Life – 17th March 1961 The Bloody María (anything vodka can do, Ronrico Rum can do better) The difference between a Bloody Mary and a Bloody María is the difference between Mary and María. María is Mary set to music. A Bloody María is easy to make. Simply use Ronrico […]

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once in a blue moon

once in a blue moon

      Unrelated to the phrase once in a blue moon, the astronomical term blue moon first appeared in the USA in August 1937: Maine Farmers’ Almanac used it to denote the third full moon in a season which exceptionally contains four full moons (as defined by the mean sun, each season normally contains three full […]

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red-letter day

red-letter day

  Calendar page for December from an illuminated Book of Hours (circa 1460). Special feasts are marked out in red ink. Photograph: University of Glascow Amongst the notable feasts for December, as shown here, are Saint Nicholas (December 6), the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8) and Saint Nicasius (December 14). To the […]

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