Tag Archives: Germanic
glabella

glabella

  title page of A tracte containing the artes of curious paintinge, caruinge & buildinge (1598)       MEANING   anatomy: the smooth part of the forehead above and between the eyebrows     ORIGIN   This noun is a specific application of the Latin adjective glabella, feminine of glabellus, diminutive of glaber/glabr-, meaning […]

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giddy

giddy

  John Ray (1627-1705) – image: National Portrait Gallery       MEANINGS   dizzy; affected with a reeling sensation and feeling as if about to fall causing or tending to cause vertigo impulsive; scatter-brained     ORIGIN   This adjective is from Old English gidig, insane, mad, from the Germanic base of god. Its […]

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‘bumf’

‘bumf’

  François Rabelais       MEANINGS   toilet paper, hence, derogatively, superfluous documents, forms, publicity material, etc.     ORIGIN   This British noun is a late-19th-century abbreviation of bum-fodder. The Germanic noun fodder, related to food and forage, appeared around 1000 in the sense of food in general, and food for livestock in […]

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to chop and change

to chop and change

  photograph of William Makepeace Thackeray by Jesse Harrison Whitehurst       MEANING   to change one’s opinions or behaviour repeatedly and abruptly     ORIGIN   In this phrase, to chop originally meant to barter, and to change meant to make an exchange with. In other words, this was an alliterative repetitive expression, […]

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Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

  The remote, abandoned farm of Top Withens (or Top Withins) is often thought of as the inspiration for the Wuthering Heights farmhouse. — Source and photograph: The Reader’s Guide to Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”       The obsolete Scottish and dialectal English verb to whither is from an assumed Old Norse verb hviðra, […]

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shiver my timbers!

shiver my timbers!

  photograph: The Sultana Project       In this nautical phrase, timbers designates the pieces of wood composing the ribs, bends, or frames of a ship’s hull, and the verb to shiver means to break or split into small fragments or splinters. (This verb is from a Germanic base meaning to split. The verb […]

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‘bird’

‘bird’

  Samuel Johnson, circa 1772, by Joshua Reynolds       The noun bird is from the masculine Old English brid (plural briddas), in Northumbrian, bird (plural birdas). There is no corresponding form in any other Germanic language, and the etymology is unknown. A connection with the nouns brood and breed is doubtful. The usual […]

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to rob

to rob

  peregrine falcon – photograph: International Falconry Forum       The verb to rob is from Anglo-Norman and Old French forms such as robier, robber and rober, meaning to plunder a town, village, etc., to steal something, to rob a person. These forms are from the Germanic base of the verb to reave, meaning […]

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nincompoop

nincompoop

  P. G. Wodehouse in 1904     Oh, Bertie, if ever I called you a brainless poop who ought to be given a scholarship at some good lunatic asylum, I take back the words. P. G. Wodehouse - Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954)     MEANING   A nincompoop is a stupid or foolish person. This noun […]

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pumpernickel

pumpernickel

  photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Matt314       MEANING   Dark, dense German bread made from coarsely ground wholemeal rye.   The word is first recorded in English in The German Spy: or, Familiar Letters from A Gentleman on his Travels thro’ Germany to His Friend in England (1738) by the English writer and surveyor Thomas […]

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