Tag Archives: folk etymology
stirrup cup – one for the road

stirrup cup – one for the road

    Huntsmen still use stirrup cup to designate an alcoholic drink offered to riders either as they are about to depart or when they return. Mr. Barry Puilan, Master of the East Antrim Hounds, hands a stirrup cup to huntsman Jack Taylor during the meet at Trench Hill, Ballyeaston, yesterday. from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post (Ireland) […]

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money for old rope

money for old rope

  Money for Old Rope SACKING, RAGS, OLD CAR BATTERIES SCRAP & SALVAGE Our Lorry Will Collect It Cash Waiting Grantham Salvage Co. INNER STREET. Phone 1332 advertisement published in The Grantham Journal (Lincolnshire) on 15th July 1949     The phrase money for old rope has various meanings: a profitable return for little or no trouble; a very […]

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blarney

blarney

    As a noun, blarney means amusing and harmless nonsense and talk which aims to charm, flatter or persuade; as a verb, it means to influence or persuade (someone) using charm and pleasant flattery. This word is from Blarney, the name of a village near Cork in Ireland; in the castle there, is an […]

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Kilkenny cats

Kilkenny cats

    Kilkenny cats denotes two cats fabled to have fought until only their tails remained, hence combatants who fight until they annihilate each other, and to fight like Kilkenny cats means to engage in a mutually destructive struggle. (The name Kilkenny denotes both a county in south-eastern Ireland and its chief town.) The earliest mention of Kilkenny cats that I have found […]

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to wash the milk off one’s liver

to wash the milk off one’s liver

    The Oxford English Dictionary (OED, 3rd edition – 2002) thus defines to wash the milk off one’s liver: to purge oneself of cowardice. Obsolete. To illustrate this definition, the OED provides one example only: the proverb “Wash thy milke off thy liuer, (say we)”, from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave. But the context of […]

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cat-o’-nine-tails

cat-o’-nine-tails

  cat-o’-nine-tails (1866-79) – photograph: National Maritime Museum     The word cat-o’-nine-tails is first recorded in Love for Love, a comedy written by the English poet and playwright William Congreve (1670-1729) and first performed in 1695. Ben, a young man “half home-bred, and half-Sea-bred”, is speaking to Miss Prue, “a silly, awkard [sic], Country […]

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Our lunatic contributor

Our lunatic contributor

  Ernest Weekley circa 1935       In the chapter Our lunatic contributor of Words and names (1933), the British philologist Ernest Weekley (1865-1954) wrote: The correspondence columns of our middlebrow weeklies and of our two Sunday papers are the happy hunting-ground of the amateur etymologist. A few years ago he published the discovery […]

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starboard – port

starboard – port

  image: nageur-sauveteur     MEANINGS   The noun starboard denotes the side of a ship or aircraft that is on the right when one is facing forward, while port denotes the opposing side.     ORIGINS   From the Germanic bases of the nouns steer and board, starboard, which appeared in Old English as steorbord, […]

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halcyon

halcyon

  kingfisher – photograph: Wikimedia Commons/JJ Harrison     The Latin noun halcyon, more properly alcyon, was derived from Greek ἀλκυών (= alkuon), incorrectly spelt ἁλκυών (= halkuon), meaning kingfisher. The ancients fabled that the halcyon bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed the […]

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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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