Tag Archives: Italy
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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disaster

disaster

  A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave     The noun disaster, via French désastre, is from Italian disastro. This Italian word was thus defined by John Florio in his Italian-English dictionary A Worlde of Wordes (1598): disastre, mischance, ill luck. And the definition of French astre given by Randle […]

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marionette

marionette

  The Entombment of Christ (1610) by Sisto Badalocchio     MEANINGS   A marionette is a puppet worked by strings, and, figuratively, a person who is easily manipulated or controlled.     ORIGIN   This word dates from the mid-17th century. It is from the French feminine noun marionnette (with a double -n-), probably composed […]

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slave

slave

  Roman mosaic from Dougga, Tunisia (third century AD) The two slaves carrying wine jars wear typical slave clothing and an amulet against the evil eye on a necklace. The slave boy to the left carries water and towels, and the one on the right a bough and a basket of flowers. photograph: Pascal Radigue […]

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domino

domino

  The Ridotto in Venice – 1750s by the Venetian painter Pietro Longhi (circa 1701-85)     A domino is a kind of loose cloak, apparently of Venetian origin, chiefly worn at masquerades, with a small mask covering the upper part of the face, by persons not personating a character. The word, first recorded in […]

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bier & barrow

bier & barrow

  Smithfield Market, London’s oldest wholesale market: a porter drags a barrow full of meat away from the market     A bier is a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or cremation or on which they are carried to the grave. First attested in the 9th century, […]

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no room to swing a cat

no room to swing a cat

  The theatre of punishment on board a Royal Navy warship around 1800 A man has been lashed to a grating (a hatch cover open for ventilation) to be flogged with the infamous cat-o’-nine- tails. The marines are drawn up on the quarterdeck with loaded muskets to ensure the punishment is carried out. Another man […]

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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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point-blank – de but en blanc

point-blank – de but en blanc

  Gunner’s quadrant Quadrant consisting of two arms of unequal length joined at a right angle and fitted with a graduated arc. At the vertex of the right angle is suspended a plumb bob that shows the degrees on the graduated arc. It was typically used to measure the elevation of artillery pieces, by inserting […]

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