Tag Archives: dictionaries
to be barking up the wrong tree

to be barking up the wrong tree

    Fess Parker (1924-2010) wearing a coonskin cap in Walt Disney’s 1950s television series Davy Crockett – photograph: AP       MEANING   to be pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action     ORIGIN   In Americanisms, Old and New. A Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Colloquialisms peculiar to the […]

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of that kidney

of that kidney

  bust of Jonathan Swift – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin     The word kidney, which is attested around 1325, is of unclear origin. The second element of the Middle-English form kidenei, plural kideneiren, is apparently ey, plural eyren, meaning egg (cf. German Eier, literally eggs, used to mean testicles). The first element remains uncertain; it is perhaps identical with cud. The Anglo-Saxon name for kidney was cropp. The word kidney, […]

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ranz-des-vaches

ranz-des-vaches

  The Ranz des Vaches – from A Complete Dictionary of Music (1779)     The term ranz-des-vaches denotes a type of Swiss melody, traditionally played on the Alpenhorn or sung in order to call cows scattered over the mountainside. The melody is characterised by the reiteration of short phrases and usually contains an element […]

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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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tell that to the marines

tell that to the marines

  “HUNS KILL WOMEN AND CHILDREN!” “TELL THAT TO THE MARINES!” First-World-War US recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg image: Disappearing Idioms This poster, which attracted a great deal of attention, portrays an angry-looking young man in the act of pulling off his coat as though he were anxious to get into a fight. The headline […]

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cherchez la femme

cherchez la femme

  caricature of Alexandre Dumas by André Gill – La Lune, 2nd December 1866     The phrase cherchez la femme, search for the woman, is used to indicate that the key to a problem or mystery is a woman, and that she need only be found for the matter to be solved. It first appeared as a […]

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Richard Snary

Richard Snary

  John Taylor (1578-1653), by Edward Harding image: National Portrait Gallery       The term Richard Snary is an alteration, with humorous substitution of Richard for the pet-form Dick, of Dick Snary, itself a humorous remodelling of dictionary. These terms are first recorded in Apollo shrouing composed for the schollars of the free-schoole of […]

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Rotten Row

Rotten Row

  the Rotten-row in Glasgow, circa 1570 image: The Glasgow Story     The street name Rotten Row occurs in many different towns. For example, The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) of 10th December 1728 published the following advertisement: There is just come to Leith, a Parcel of fine Figs both in Casks and Frails [= baskets], which will be sold there at […]

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pastiche – pastis

pastiche – pastis

  pasticcio di carne – photograph: www.cucinafilm.it     The noun pastis designates an aniseed-flavoured aperitif, while pastiche, or pasticcio, denotes a work of art that imitates the style of another artist or period and a work of art that mixes styles, materials, etc. Unlikely as it may seem, these words are doublets, or etymological twins: although […]

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fag end

fag end

        MEANINGS   – the last part of something, especially when regarded as less important or interesting – British, informal: a cigarette end     ORIGIN   The obsolete adjective flag, attested in the late 16th century, meant flabby, hanging down. It was either an onomatopoeic formation or, via Middle French flac, from Latin flaccus, of same meaning. […]

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