Tag Archives: Germanic
‘wasp’

‘wasp’

  image from Le Corset à travers les âges (The Corset through the ages – 1893), written by Ernest Léoty and illustrated by Saint-Elme Gautier     MEANING   a social winged insect which has a narrow waist and a sting and is typically yellow with black stripes     ORIGIN   Of Germanic origin, the noun […]

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trumpery

    MEANINGS   – attractive articles of little value or use – practices or beliefs that are superficially or visually appealing but have little real value or worth     ORIGIN   The noun trumpery, which appeared in the mid-15th century, is from French tromperie, meaning deception, trickery. This was one of the original […]

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cockroach

    MEANING   A beetle-like scavenging insect with long antennae and legs. Several tropical kinds have become established worldwide as household pests.     ORIGIN   This noun first appeared in the form cacarootch in The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), by John Smith (1580-1631), soldier and colonial governor. […]

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spick and span

    MEANING   extremely neat and clean     ORIGIN   The adjective span new, meaning perfectly new, was derived from Old Norse spán-nýr, meaning literally chip new (cf. German Span, chip, shaving), the metaphor being as new as a freshly cut wooden chip as in the obsolete English adjective split new. The adjective […]

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caterpillar

    MEANING   the larva of a butterfly or moth     ORIGIN   First attested in the mid-15th century, the noun caterpillar is probably from catepeluse and variants, which were the Anglo-Norman forms of the Old French feminine noun chatepelose and variants, meaning literally hairy she-cat. In his textbook Lesclarcissement de la langue […]

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‘spud’

    MEANING   informal: a potato     ORIGIN   The noun spud is related to Old Norse spjōt, meaning spear, German Spieß, of same meaning, and English spit in the sense of skewer. It is first recorded in in the English-Latin dictionary Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum (Storehouse for Children or Clerics - around 1440): Spudde, cultellus […]

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a pretty kettle of fish

a pretty kettle of fish

  photograph: The Grocer     MEANING   The phrase a pretty (or fine) kettle of fish means an awkward state of affairs.     ORIGIN   There is an obvious error in the Oxford English Dictionary (1st edition – 1901): under the headword kettle in the general sense of a vessel for boiling water or […]

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ribald

    MEANING   (adjective): referring to sexual matters in an amusingly rude or irreverent way     ORIGIN   This word is from Anglo-Norman and Old and Middle French forms such as ribalde, ribaut, ribauld, ribault, (Modern French ribaud), derived from the Old French verb riber, to give oneself up to pleasure. This verb […]

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companion

companion

  photograph: David Levene for the Guardian       In the sense of a person one chooses to socialise or associate with, this noun dates back to the early 14th century. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old and Middle French forms such as compaignun and compaignon (Modern French compagnon), derived from Late Latin companio/companion-, attested […]

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Shrove Tuesday – le Mardi gras

Shrove Tuesday – le Mardi gras

  le carnaval de la mi-carême, Nantes (France) – photograph: MaxPPP/France-Soir         Shrovetide is the period comprising Quinquagesima Sunday, or Shrove Sunday, and the two following days, Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday. It immediately precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. (Quinquagesima is short for ecclesiastical Latin quinquagesima dies, fiftieth day, because, […]

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