Tag Archives: colours
butterfly

butterfly

  photograph: Steve Ogden - Wildlife Insight     This noun, which appeared around the year 1000 as buttorfleoge, is simply a compound of butter and fly, and not – as sometimes poetically suggested – an alteration of flutter by. The reason for this name is unknown. Dutch had botervlieg and German Butterfliege, which, like the […]

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ladybird

ladybird

  ladybird on strawberry leaf – photograph: nutmeg66       A coccinellid is a beetle of the family Coccinellidae. The genus name Coccinella is from Latin coccineus, scarlet (cochineal, a scarlet dye, has the same origin). This family includes the ladybirds (ladybugs in American English).The scientific name of the common European seven-spot ladybird is […]

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bluestocking

bluestocking

  Benjamin Stillingfleet, by Johann Zoffany     MEANING   A bluestocking is an intellectual or literary woman.     ORIGIN   The term blue stocking originally alluded to blue stockings as worn by men, specifically cheap blue worsted stockings as opposed to more expensive and formal white silk stockings. Originally, blue stocking was particularly […]

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blackmail

blackmail

  Scottish Borders     The original meaning of blackmail was a tribute levied on farmers in Scotland and the border counties of England by freebooting Scottish chiefs in return for protection or immunity from plunder. The obsolete noun mail means rent, payment in money or kind made under a lease. It is of Scandinavian […]

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salad days

salad days

  Antony and Cleopatra (1885), by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)     MEANING   The expression one’s salad days means the period when one is young and inexperienced. In American English, it has recently shifted sense: it now refers to the peak or heyday of something.   ORIGIN   This expression was coined by Shakespeare in […]

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white feather

white feather

  illustration for The White Feather. A Sketch of English Recruiting   Inglorious Upshot That evening as he was walking from the station on his way home, three smartly-dressed girls, approaching, barred the pavement. He stopped. “How young he is, the poor darling!” murmured fondly the central maiden, and, suddenly producing a large white feather, […]

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dark horse

dark horse

  The Derby was decided by a photo-finish for the first time in 1949, with Nimbus (centre) the winner by a head.     The British politician and writer Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) is often credited with being the first user of dark horse in the sense of a horse about whose racing powers little is […]

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bombast

bombast

            Bombast is high-sounding language with little meaning, used to impress people. This is a figurative use of the word, which dates back to the mid-16th century and originally denoted raw cotton or cotton wool used as padding.   The English word is from an earlier bombace, an Old French […]

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crow-keeper

crow-keeper

    Wheat field with crows (1890) – Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)     Of a Crow-keeper There be many called crow-keepers; but, indeed, There’s no crow-keeper but thou in time of seed; Where others keep crows out, like starvelings forlorn, To keep crows in plight, thou keepest crows in the corn. John Heywood – […]

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red-handed

red-handed

      Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) – by Sir Francis Grant (painted in 1831)       Red-handed means in the act of committing a crime, having the evidences of guilt still upon the person, especially in the phrase catch red-handed.   It was an adaptation by Sir Walter Scott of the older Scottish […]

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