Tag Archives: Italy
jeremiad

jeremiad

  Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem (circa 1630), by Rembrandt (1606-69)       Jeremiah (circa 650-585 BC) was a Hebrew prophet who foresaw the fall of Assyria, the conquest of his country by Egypt and Babylon, and the destruction of Jerusalem. He is traditionally regarded as the author or part-author of two Old […]

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valentine

valentine

  photograph: Hot Rocks       There are two Valentines, both Italian, one a priest and the other a bishop, who were martyred and used to be commemorated in the Roman Catholic calendar on 14th February.   However, they have no romantic associations and the modern customs linked with St Valentine’s Day arise from […]

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Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke

  photograph: BBC goodfood       The name Jerusalem artichoke designates a North American sunflower, Helianthus tuberosus, cultivated for its underground edible tubers, and the tuber of this plant, which is cooked and eaten as a vegetable.   This name first appeared in 1620 in the form artichoke of Jerusalem. It is an alteration […]

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sybarite

sybarite

  Sybaris Valley in Calabria – photograph: Hydria Project     MEANING   A sybarite is a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury.     ORIGIN   With a capital initial, the word originally denoted a native or citizen of Sybaris, an ancient Greek city of southern Italy, traditionally noted for […]

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sycophant

sycophant

  amulet representing the ‘fig’ hand (mano in fica) illustration from The Evil Eye (1895) by Frederick Thomas Elworthy       MEANING   A sycophant is a person who acts obsequiously towards someone important in order to gain advantage.     ORIGIN   The noun sycophant is from Latin sycophanta, meaning an informer, slanderer, […]

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ostracism

ostracism

  ostrakon against the Athenian statesman Themistocles (circa 528-462 BC) photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Giovanni Dall’Orto       MEANING   Exclusion from a society or group     ORIGIN   In Athens and other ancient Greek cities, ostracism was a political measure by which citizens whose power or influence was considered dangerous to the state were […]

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marguerite

marguerite

  ox-eye daisy flower photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Tony Wills       Borrowed from French in the early 17th century, marguerite originally denoted the common daisy. It is now another term for the ox-eye daisy; also called moon daisy, this plant has large white flowers with yellow centres (scientific name: Leucanthemum vulgare, family Compositae).   The same […]

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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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red tape

red tape

  bundle of US pension documents from 1906 bound in red tape photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Jarek Tuszynski       MEANING   Excessive bureaucracy or adherence to official rules and formalities.     ORIGIN   Woven red tape is used to tie up bundles of legal documents and official papers. A Dictionary of Law (eighth edition […]

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mountebank

mountebank

  Caroline Fair, or Mat Pudding and his Mountebank (1821) attributed to Theodore Lane (National Portrait Gallery)       MEANING   A mountebank is a charlatan, a person who deceives others, especially in order to trick them out of their money.     ORIGIN   This noun was derived from the Italian montambanco, or […]

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