Tag Archives: Erasmus
one swallow does not make a summer

one swallow does not make a summer

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Thermos       MEANING   a single fortunate event doesn’t mean that what follows will also be good     ORIGIN   The annual migration of swallows to Europe from southern climes at the end of winter was the subject of a proverb in Ancient Greece: μία χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, in […]

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to rain cats and dogs (2)

    According to B. A. Phythian in A Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1993), the phrase to rain cats and dogs, or at least the metaphor, was in use for a long period before it was first recorded, and was originally referring to a disaster. He explains that a clue as to the origin of this phrase is to be found in […]

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on the horns of a dilemma

on the horns of a dilemma

  St Jerome in his study (1480), by Domenico Ghirlandaio         MEANING   faced with a decision involving equally unfavourable alternatives (also read Morton’s fork)     ORIGIN   In logic, the term dilemma denotes a form of argument forcing an opponent to choose either of two equally unfavourable alternatives. The Latin […]

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preposterous

preposterous

  title page of The discouerie of witchcraft (1584)       MEANING   contrary to nature, reason, or sense; absurd; ridiculous     ORIGIN   The adjective preposterous is from Latin praeposterus, meaning reversed, inverted, perverted, distorted, absurd, etc. This Latin adjective is composed of the adverb prae, in front, before, and the adjective […]

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quot homines tot sententiæ

quot homines tot sententiæ

  alleged portrait of Terence, from Codex Vaticanus Latinus 3868, a 9th-century illuminated manuscript of his Latin comedies housed in the Vatican Library.       MEANING   Literally meaning as many men, so many opinions, the Latin proverb quot homines tot* sententiæ expresses the fact that there is considerable diversity of opinion, and the difficulty […]

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blockhead

blockhead

  Erasmus – Paraphrases upon the New Testament (1551 edition) photograph: Humber Books       MEANING   a very stupid person     ORIGIN   A blockhead was originally a wooden block shaped like a head, used for making hats or wigs. The noun was used figuratively to denote a person’s head containing no more […]

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let the cobbler stick to his last

let the cobbler stick to his last

  a shoe last     The proverb let the cobbler stick to his last means that one should do the work one is expert at, and not try to interfere in, or do, that of others.     A last is a shoemaker’s model for shaping or repairing a shoe or boot. The word […]

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don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

  An Indian judge is checking the teeth of a horse during a horse show in Dholera, some 110 km from Ahmedabad on 8th January 2012. Some 150 horses from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states of India participated in the event. To showcase the pedigree and raise awareness about the breeds, the equestrian club of […]

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mumpsimus

mumpsimus

  Erasmus – 1523 – by Hans Holbein the Younger     MEANING   The noun mumpsimus (plural mumpsimuses) designates: – a traditional custom or idea adhered to although shown to be unreasonable – a person who obstinately adheres to old customs or ideas in spite of evidence that they are wrong or unreasonable.   […]

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mad as a March hare – as a hatter

mad as a March hare – as a hatter

  The March Hare and the Hatter dunking Dormouse (illustration by John Tenniel - 1865 - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)       Phrases associating animals with madness – in the sense of lunacy or angriness – have long existed. For example, in The Comedy of Errors (around 1594), Shakespeare used the phrase (as) mad as a buck: It would make a man […]

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