Tag Archives: Italy
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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butterfly

butterfly

  photograph: Steve Ogden - Wildlife Insight     This noun, which appeared around the year 1000 as buttorfleoge, is simply a compound of butter and fly, and not – as sometimes poetically suggested – an alteration of flutter by. The reason for this name is unknown. Dutch had botervlieg and German Butterfliege, which, like the […]

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constable – marshal

constable – marshal

  photograph: Institut de la maréchalerie     The noun constable, which dates back to the mid-13th century, is from Old French cunestable, conestable (modern French connétable), representing the Late Latin comes stabuli, meaning count, or officer, of the stable, marshal. (The Latin noun comes/comit-, which is the origin of count in the sense of […]

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jovial

jovial

        MEANING   The adjective jovial means cheerful and friendly.     ORIGIN   It is a borrowing from French jovial, originally meaning under the influence of the planet Jupiter, which as a natal planet was regarded as the source of joy and happiness. The French adjective first appeared in 1546 in […]

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manifesto

manifesto

  cover of Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (first edition of February 1848, London)       The archaic Latin verb fendere meant to strike, and its past participle festus, struck. They only survived in compounds such as: – defendere (the prefix de- meaning off): primary sense: to ward off attack, […]

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porcelain

porcelain

  Cypræa testudinaria photograph: Wikimedia Commons       Via French porcelaine, porcelain is apparently from Italian porcellana, meaning cowrie shell, hence chinaware, from the resemblance of its translucent surface to the nacreous shell of the mollusc.   The Italian porcellana is probably a diminutive of porcella, female piglet, young sow, which is in turn […]

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fracas

fracas

  Nell Gwyn as Cupid (circa 1672) engraving by Richard Thomson of a painting by Peter Cross     On Tuesday 10th March 2015, Jeremy Clarkson, the presenter of the popular TV show Top Gear, was suspended following what the BBC said was “a fracas” with a producer (in fact, Clarkson punched him).   A […]

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syphilis

syphilis

  Electron micrograph of Treponema pallidum     Syphilis is a chronic bacterial disease that is contracted chiefly by infection during sexual intercourse, but also congenitally by infection of a developing foetus. This is caused by the spirochaete Treponema pallidum.   The word is from post-classical Latin syphilis, which was originally the title (in full, […]

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