Tag Archives: Germanic
widow’s cruse

widow’s cruse

  The Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta (circa 1630-40), by Bernardo Strozzi (circa 1581-1644) – image: wikiart.org     The noun cruse denotes a small earthenware vessel for liquids. It is of Germanic origin and related to words such as Dutch kroes and Swedish krus, of same meaning. The expression widow’s cruse signifies an […]

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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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to lark about

to lark about

  skylark – photograph: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds     The phrasal verb lark about (or around) means to enjoy oneself by behaving in a playful and mischievous way. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary – 1st edition, 1902) indicates the following about the verb lark: The origin is somewhat uncertain. Possibly it […]

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short shrift

short shrift

  The Murder of the Princes in the Tower – illustration from The National and Domestic History of England (1870?-80?), by William Hickman Smith Aubrey (1848?-1916)     The expression short shrift means brief and unsympathetic treatment, and to make short shrift of means to dispose of quickly and unsympathetically. A short shrift was originally […]

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Witham

Witham

  Witham (Essex) – town sign photograph: East Anglian Daily Times     Witham is the name of several villages in Lincolnshire and Essex. With a pun on wit, the expression little, or small, Witham was used proverbially for a place of which the inhabitants were remarkable for stupidity. For example, the following, from A […]

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the slough of despond

the slough of despond

  The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to That which is to come Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream Wherein is Discovered, The Manner of his setting out, His Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey (1679 edition) – image: The British Library       MEANING   a state of extreme […]

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Viking

    MEANING   any of the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes who raided by sea most of northern and western Europe from the 8th to the 11th centuries, later often settling, as in parts of Britain     ORIGIN   This noun was introduced in the early 19th century by antiquaries and poets. It is […]

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pismirism

    MEANING   hoarding of money; miserliness     ORIGIN   This rare noun is first recorded in the column Table Talk of The Daily News (London) of Saturday 22nd December 1906: Our Post Office spoils us. It takes a great deal of trouble for the public that it need not take, and that other Post […]

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bully

    MEANING   a person who hurts, persecutes or intimidates weaker people     ORIGIN   One noun bully was a term of endearment and familiarity originally applied to either sex. It is first recorded in A comedy concernynge thre lawes, of nature Moses, & Christ, corrupted by the sodomytes. Pharysees and Papystes (1548?), […]

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