Tag Archives: Italy
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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serendipity

serendipity

  Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Horace Walpole – circa 1756-7       MEANING   The noun serendipity denotes the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.     ORIGIN   The word was coined by the English writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717-97). In a letter to his […]

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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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grotesque

grotesque

  Crotésca, antique, fretted or carved worke. Grótta, a grot, a cave, a den, a caverne or hole underground. Grottésca, anticke or landskip [= landscape] worke of Painters. John Florio – Queen Anna’s New World of Words, Or Dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues (1611)     During the Italian Renaissance, the remaining buildings […]

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to take the biscuit

to take the biscuit

    MEANING   To take the biscuit (or, chiefly in American English, the cake), often used ironically or as an expression of surprise, means to rank first.     ORIGIN   The phrase originally alluded to biscuit or cake in the sense of a dainty, a delicacy.   To take the cake is first […]

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