Tag Archives: dictionaries
to leave in the lurch

to leave in the lurch

  A game of tric-trac (about 1630), by the Dutch painter Judith Leyster (1609-60) image: Worcester Art Museum       MEANING   to leave an associate or friend abruptly and without assistance or support when they are in a difficult situation     ORIGIN   FRENCH & GERMAN   Middle French lourche was the […]

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freelance

freelance

    The term freelance appeared, as two words and in the sense of a medieval mercenary, in Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe (1819). In chapter 34, Scott wrote: “It is truth itself”, said De Bracy. “I was his prisoner, and spoke with him”. “With Richard Plantagenet, sayest thou?” continued Fitzurse. “With Richard Plantagenet”, replied De […]

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arrant

arrant

    Found only with nonsense and one or two other nouns expressive of contempt, the adjective arrant has a curious history.   It was originally a variant of errant, meaning wandering, vagrant, vagabond, as in knight errant, a medieval knight wandering in search of chivalrous adventures.   (This vowel change, e becoming a, also […]

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to have an axe to grind

to have an axe to grind

  photograph: An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual – Federal Highway Administration     Of American origin, the expression to have an axe to grind (American spelling ax) means to have a private reason for doing, or being involved in, something. It has often been attributed to Benjamin Franklin¹. For example, the New English Dictionary (NED – 1888), as the Oxford English […]

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bonfire

bonfire

  a Fifth of November bonfire in Hastings – photograph: VisitEngland       In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) thus defined bonfire: [from bon, good, French, and fire.] A fire made for some publick cause of triumph or exultation. In support of this etymology, bonfire in several languages is, literally, fire of joy. For example: – […]

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Le nénufar et l’ognon (ou les avatars de l’orthographe française)

  Le préjugé orthographique ne se justifie ni par la logique, ni par l’histoire… il se fonde sur une tradition relativement récente, formée surtout d’ignorance. Histoire de la langue française, par Ferdinand Brunot (1860-1938)     Les Français considèrent souvent l’orthographe de leur langue comme quasi sacrée – comme si elle était gravée dans le […]

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