Tag Archives: folk etymology
barmy

barmy

    Barm is the froth that forms on the top of fermenting malt liquors. It is used to leaven bread, and to cause fermentation in other liquors. This is why the literal senses of the adjective barmy are: – of, full of, or covered with, barm, – frothing. Therefore, barmy came to be applied […]

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forlorn hope

forlorn hope

    MEANING   a persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled, a faint hope, a ‘hope against hope’     ORIGIN   On the face of it, this is a curious expression, because the adjective forlorn does not normally mean faint but miserable, lonely, forsaken or sad. The current sense of forlorn hope derives either from wordplay or from a misunderstanding of […]

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Welsh rabbit

    A light supper, of course. I am exceedingly fond of Welsh-rabbit. More than a pound at once, however, may not at all times be advisable. Still, there can be no material objection to two. And really between two and three, there is merely a single unit of difference. I ventured, perhaps, upon four. […]

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gazette

gazette

      Venetian gazeta       In A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), Randle Cotgrave gave the following definition of the French word gazette: A certaine Venetian coyne scarce worth our farthing; also, a Bill of Newes; or, a short Relation of the generall occurrences of the Time, forged most commonly at Venice, and thence […]

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from pillar to post

from pillar to post

    The phrase from pillar to post means: from one party or place of appeal or resource to another; hither and thither; to and fro; implying repulse and harassment. Oxford English Dictionary - 1909   It was originally from post to pillar, and is first recorded around 1420: And when he thedyr came, Humylyté hym took A token and bad […]

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tennis

tennis

  Jeu de paume – France – 17th century     Paulme: feminine. The paulme of the hand; also, a ball; (and hence) also, Tennis (play;) also, the Palme tree. from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave     Fourthly, the inside of the Uvea is black’d like the walls […]

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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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On proverbs

  In Notes & Queries (2d series, vol. 12, July-December 1861), A. De Morgan wrote, under the title Raining cats and dogs [also read here]: The derivation kata doksa will not do for the whole phrase, which, when I was a boy, was “cats and dogs, and pitchforks with their points downwards”. The phrase seems to be […]

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to pay through the nose: folk etymology

  I have explained in another article the probable origin of to pay through the nose. In an article titled Horse-Marines, published in Notes and Queries (Series 9/II, 1898, p. 457), a certain Richard Edgcumbe gave the following folk etymology:   Then, again, “Paying through the nose”. This was originally a common expression on board ship: “Pay out the cable”, […]

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The veracious story of a worthy knight, called Sir Loin of Beef

The veracious story of a worthy knight, called Sir Loin of Beef

  At Astley Hall (Lancashire), you can still see this chair… … with the following explanation: Sirloin Chair – King James I reputedly knighted a loin of beef upon this chair at Hoghton Tower, Lancashire, in 1617. Se non è vero, è ben trovato. (Even if it is not true, it makes a good story.)     The […]

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