Tag Archives: folk etymology

to chance one’s arm

    MEANING   British, informal: to undertake something although it may be dangerous or unsuccessful     ORIGIN   This phrase is first attested in the late 19th century. The Daily News (London) of Monday 13th November 1899 published the following explanation, which seems to allude to a comedian impersonating Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), English soldier […]

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‘fang’

‘fang’

  Prototype for RT Series Nota Type IV ‘Fang’ sports racing car, Nota Engineering, Parramatta (Australia), 1971 Chris Buckingham (1921-2015), who introduced low-cost motor sport into Australia, built this prototype Nota Type IV which he named the ‘Fang’. Source: Guy Buckingham and Australian Motor Racing, by Margaret Simpson – Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, […]

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Walker

    MEANING   Walker, more fully Hookey (also Hooky) Walker, is an exclamation expressing incredulity. It was first recorded in Lexicon Balatronicum¹. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811): Hookee Walker. An expression signifying that the story is not true, or that the thing will not occur. (¹ balatronicum: from […]

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costermonger

    MEANING   a person who sells goods, especially fruit and vegetables, from a barrow     ORIGIN   A costermonger was originally an apple-seller, a fruiterer. The word is composed of costard, meaning a kind of apple of large size, and monger, denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity. The noun […]

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to send to Coventry

    MEANING   to ostracise or ignore     ORIGIN   Coventry is a city in the west Midlands of England, historically in Warwickshire. In Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1870 edition), Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-97) gave the following origin of the phrase: This is a military term, according to Messrs. Chambers (“Cyclopædia”): The […]

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island – aisle

    The noun island is from Old English íegland, ígland, a pleonastic compound of íeg, íg, meaning isle, and land. The literal meaning of íeg is watered place. This word is related to Old English éa, water, river, and a compound frequent in Old English was éaland, literally water-land, river-land. Old English éa is related […]

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picnic

picnic

  Blowing up the PIC NIC’s:—or—Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomime (1802), by James Gillray (1756-1815) — image: The British Museum         MEANING   a meal eaten outdoors     ORIGIN   This word is from French pique-nique, probably formed with reduplication from the verb piquer, to pick. (Similarly, pêle-mêle, […]

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beanfeast – beano

beanfeast – beano

    MEANING   (British informal): a celebration, party or other enjoyable time     ORIGIN   A beanfeast was originally an annual dinner given by employers to employees. For instance, The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle of July 1793 reported the following: Saturday July 13. A fire broke out in the rope and yarn […]

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R.S.V.P.

R.S.V.P.

    R.S.V.P. is an initialism from French répondez s’il vous plaît (literally respond if you please), meaning please reply, used at the end of invitations to request a response. It first appeared in English in the early 19th century. For example, in Domestic Duties; or, Instructions to young married ladies, on the management of […]

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contredanse

    MEANING   a courtly French version of the English country dance, originating in the 18th century and similar to the quadrille     ORIGIN   The English noun contredanse, or contredance, was borrowed from French contredanse, itself an alteration of English country dance. The English country dance was introduced into France during the […]

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