Tag Archives: Jonathan Swift
on the qui vive

on the qui vive

  Chaucer reciting – early 15th-century manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)       MEANING   on the alert, attentive     ORIGIN   The French phrase qui vive ? literally means (long) live who?. It is a sentry’s challenge, intended to discover to which party the person challenged belongs, with […]

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Cheddar cheese

Cheddar cheese

  Cheddar is a village near the Mendip Hills in Somerset.     According to Andrew Dalby in Cheese: A Global History (2009): English cheeses were already admired in Europe in the fifteenth century, but not under local names. These become prominent about a hundred years later. Banbury and Suffolk 1562, Shropshire and Cheshire about […]

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the writing on the wall

the writing on the wall

  Belshazzar’s Feast (1635), by Rembrandt (1606-69)     “He says that Civilization is in the melting-pot and that all thinking men can read the writing on the wall.” “What wall?” “Old Testament, ass. Belshazzar’s feast.” “Oh, that, yes. I’ve often wondered how that gag was worked. With mirrors, I expect.” P. G. Wodehouse – […]

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fleshpots

fleshpots

  Jonathan Swift by or after Charles Jervas (1709-10) image: National Portrait Gallery         MEANING   places providing luxurious or hedonistic living     ORIGIN   Literally, a fleshpot is a pot in which flesh, i.e. meat, is boiled to eat. The source is biblical. In the Book of Exodus, 16:3, when […]

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Grub Street

Grub Street

  Grub Street – John Rocque’s 1746 map of London     MEANING   The noun Grub Street denotes the world or class of literary hacks. As an adjective, also spelt Grubstreet, it means having the nature of literary hack-work.     ORIGIN   In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson gave […]

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over the moon

over the moon

  Mother Goose’s Melody; or Sonnets from the Cradle – 1791 edition     The phrase to be over the moon means to be very happy or delighted.   However, its earliest occurrence, as to leap over the moon, seems to have an opposite meaning. In his tragicomedy The Humorous Lieutenant (circa 1619), John Fletcher […]

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yahoo

yahoo

  The servants drive a herd of Yahoos into the field laden with hay by Louis Rhead (1857-1926)     MEANING   A yahoo is a rude, noisy, or violent person.     ORIGIN   The name was invented by the Anglo-Irish writer and cleric Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in Gulliver’s Travels (1726) for an imaginary […]

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the land of Nod

the land of Nod

  Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon – Cain flying before Jehovah’s Curse – circa 1880     In the Book of Genesis, the land of Nod, located on the east of Eden, is the place where God exiled Cain after the murder of his brother Abel. In the King James Version (1611), Genesis, 4:16, is: And Cain […]

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tace is Latin for candle

tace is Latin for candle

        The obsolete phrase tace is Latin for (a) candle means do not throw light on it, keep it dark, secret. Latin tace means be silent, and candle is symbolical of light.    It was used by Jonathan Swift in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, published in 1738 but […]

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mad as a March hare – as a hatter

mad as a March hare – as a hatter

  The March Hare and the Hatter dunking Dormouse (illustration by John Tenniel - 1865 - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)       Phrases associating animals with madness – in the sense of lunacy or angriness – have long existed. For example, in The Comedy of Errors (around 1594), Shakespeare used the phrase (as) mad as a buck: It would make a man […]

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