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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window

window

  oeil-de-boeuf (literally eye-of-steer) window photograph: Lynne Furrer/Shutterstock.com       The noun window is from Middle English windoȝe, a borrowing from Old Norse vindauga, literally wind’s eye, from vindr, wind, and auga, eye. The Scandinavian word replaced and finally superseded Old English éagþyrel, i.e. eyethirl, composed of the nouns eye and thirl. The noun […]

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clock – cloak

clock – cloak

  cloak: twin roses designs     The nouns clock and cloak are doublets, or etymological twins: they are of the same derivation but have different forms and meanings. Despite the notion of ‘two’ implied by doublet, the term is also applied to sets of more than two words. In this case, cloche, a borrowing from French, must be added to clock and cloak.   […]

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at one fell swoop

    The phrase at (or in) one fell swoop means all in one go. Here, the noun swoop, which denotes the act of swooping down, refers to the sudden pouncing of a bird of prey (a kite for example) from a height upon its quarry (of Germanic origin, the verb swoop is cognate with sweep). The adjective fell (related to felon) means of terrible evil or ferocity. The whole expression is from The Tragedie […]

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Wales – Cymru

Wales – Cymru

                      Briton settlements in the 6th century – settlements of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain, circa 600     In the following, Briton will refer to the Celtic Brittonic-speaking peoples who inhabited Britain south of the Firth of Forth, and who, following the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in […]

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