Tag Archives: grammar
bombast

bombast

            Bombast is high-sounding language with little meaning, used to impress people. This is a figurative use of the word, which dates back to the mid-16th century and originally denoted raw cotton or cotton wool used as padding.   The English word is from an earlier bombace, an Old French […]

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Eating in the Romance languages

Eating in the Romance languages

          The standard Classical Latin verb for to eat was edere (the infinitive was also ēsse), from which is derived English edible, and with which English eat is cognate.   The Latin verb comedere/comesse, a compound of the intensive prefix com- and the verb edere/ēsse, meant to eat up, consume. From […]

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to take someone aback

to take someone aback

    Ship in a storm – 1887 – Ivan Aivazovsky           The adverb aback is from Old English on bæc (on being a preposition and bæc a noun). It meant towards, or situated in, the rear, backwards. (Its formation is therefore similar to that of aside, ashore and asleep for […]

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press gang

press gang

    Press gang – caricature – 1780        To press-gang someone into is to force someone to do something.   Historically, a press gang was a body of men employed, under the command of an officer, to enlist men forcibly into service in the navy or army. Hence the verb press-gang, meaning […]

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nabob

nabob

      Asaf-ud-dowlah, a Mogul nawab, listening to musicians in his court – 1812       A nabob is a person of conspicuous wealth or high status.   The word is from Hindi nawwāb, nabāb, viceroy, governor, itself from Arabic nuwwāb, plural of na’ib, meaning lieutenant, representative, replacement.   This Arabic na’ib is […]

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seersucker & crêpe

seersucker & crêpe

  seersucker – crépon   Seersucker is a lightweight fabric with a crimped or puckered surface. The word seersucker is from an East Indian alteration of Persian šir o šakar. This Persian term means, literally, milk and sugar.  By transference, the term came to mean striped cotton garment, because seersucker formerly was typically made of […]

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handicap

handicap

  A contraction of hand in cap, the word handicap dates back to the mid-17th century, and was originally the name of a betting game in which players put forfeit money in a cap or bag and then drew from it.   The game was described by J. S. Coyne in Notes and Queries, dated […]

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forlorn hope

forlorn hope

    MEANING   a persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled, a faint hope, a ‘hope against hope’     ORIGIN   On the face of it, this is a curious expression, because the adjective forlorn does not normally mean faint but miserable, lonely, forsaken or sad. The current sense of forlorn hope derives either from wordplay or from a misunderstanding of […]

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tennis

tennis

  Jeu de paume – France – 17th century     Paulme: feminine. The paulme of the hand; also, a ball; (and hence) also, Tennis (play;) also, the Palme tree. from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave     Fourthly, the inside of the Uvea is black’d like the walls […]

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cheese – fromage

cheese – fromage

  “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux-cent quarante-six variétés de fromage ?” (“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”) attributed to Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), French general and statesman, in Les mots du général de Gaulle (1962), by Ernest Mignon photograph: fémivin.com   The word cheese is from Old English cēse, cȳse, […]

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