Tag Archives: folk etymology
eggcorn

eggcorn

  photograph: Launceston Parish Wildlife Project       MEANING   An eggcorn is a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another, an element of the original being substituted for one which sounds very similar, as in to tow the line instead of to toe the line.     ORIGIN […]

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squirrel

squirrel

  photograph: Peter Trimming       The noun squirrel, which appeared in Middle English in forms such as squyrel and squerell, is from Anglo-Norman and Old French forms such as escuirel and escureul (Modern French écureuil), from the unattested Late Latin scuriolus, diminutive of an unattested altered form of the Latin word sciurus (biologists have retained the […]

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between the devil and the deep blue sea

between the devil and the deep blue sea

  contemporary etching of troop disposition at the beginning of the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)       MEANING   in a difficult situation where there are two equally unpleasant choices     ORIGIN   The reference to the sea suggests a nautical origin. The use by sailors of devil as a name for a […]

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the devil to pay

the devil to pay

  portrait, said to be of Stella (Esther Johnson) image: Crawford Art Gallery – Cork, Éire         MEANING   serious trouble to be dealt with     ORIGIN   This expression refers to a person making a pact or bargain with the Devil: the heavy price has to be paid in the […]

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‘chav’

‘chav’

  a waxwork of Tony Blair dressed as a chav, in Madame Tussauds       MEANING   (British; informal and derogatory): a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour     ORIGIN   This noun is either from Romani čhavo, meaning an unmarried Romani male, a male Romani child, or from English […]

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old chestnut

old chestnut

  photograph: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/Wikimedia Commons       MEANING   a joke, story, or subject that has become tedious and uninteresting through constant repetition     ORIGIN   In old chestnut, the adjective old is simply an intensifier of the noun. The figurative use of chestnut seems to have its origin in US theatrical slang. In Notes […]

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nonplus

    MEANING   a state in which one is unable to proceed or decide; inability to say or do more; a state of perplexity or puzzlement     ORIGIN   From scholastic disputation, this noun is from Latin non plus, meaning not more, no further, composed of non, not, and plus, more. It is […]

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slogan

slogan

  The Death of Chatterton (1856), by Henry Wallis (1830-1916)         A slogan was originally a war cry or battle cry employed by Scottish Highlanders or Borderers, or by the native Irish, usually consisting of a personal surname or the name of a gathering-place. The word is from Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, composed of […]

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bugbear

bugbear

  a lamia, from The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) (A lamia was a fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood of children.)       MEANING   a cause of obsessive fear, anxiety or irritation     ORIGIN   […]

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‘onyx’

‘onyx’

  photograph: Health This Year      MEANING   a semi-precious variety of agate with different colours in layers     ORIGIN   Via Anglo-Norman and Old French forms such as onix and onice (Modern French onyx), the English word is from Latin onyx/onych-. This Latin noun is from Greek ὄνυξ/ὀνυχ- (onux/onukh-), which literally meant […]

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