Tag Archives: colours
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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caviar

caviar

  The letter written to his family by the French resistant Yves Daoudal (1891-1944) on 5th April 1944, before he was shot. A passage has been “caviardé”, blue-pencilled. (Photograph: Le Mont-Valérien)     The phrase caviar to the general is used to denote a good thing unappreciated by the ignorant (here, the general refers to the multitude). It is from The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince […]

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donkey

donkey

    Detail from Nine Living Muses of Great Britain by Richard Samuel (1779) Anna Lætitia Barbauld is raising her hand.       Donkey is a word of late appearance and of uncertain origin.   It was first defined in 1785 by Francis Grose in his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: donkey, donkey […]

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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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The resistible rise of Marine Le Pen

The resistible rise of Marine Le Pen

   The new, reassuring face of old extremism     Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Gospel of Matthew – 7:15    The tricolour logo of Rassemblement Bleu Marine     The Front National, France’s main far-right party, was renamed Rassemblement Bleu Marine when Marine Le […]

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